Infected wood, soon to be carpeted in white fungus
File this under “news luthiers can use”: A Swiss materials scientist reports that siccing certain species of fungi on wood intended to be made into violins can result in instruments with superior sound quality, purportedly as lovely as that of a Stradivarius.
The healthy little brown bats roosting close to the bat
with white-nose syndrome risk infection with the fungus
The deadly fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is sweeping through North American bat populations, and little brown bats are adapting their behavior to avoid it. Although these bats typically clump together in large groups, they are now spreading out to roost separately, a change in behavior that may be helping the bat populations rebound. So what does a bat-killing fungus have to do with human prejudice? The bats’ trick of splitting up to survive contagion may also have led humans to divide into tribes and respond hostilely to members of different, potentially diseased groups.
In a post on Scientific American’s Guest Blog, biologist Rob Dunn writes about the link between infectious diseases and human prejudice.
Propolis (yellow) lining the inside of a beehive.
Beekeepers would love to get rid of propolis, a sticky substance made of resins that bees use to line their hives, because it makes it hard to pry hives open. But propolis isn’t just gluing the hive together, according to a new study published in PLoS ONE—honeybees use it to fight off fungal infections and seek it out when their hives are infected.
Bees have to invest effort in hunting down the resins that make up propolis, which like nectar is foraged from plants. That means that every minute a bee is looking for resin is a minute it’s not looking for food. The trade-off is worth it, apparently, because propolis kills bacteria and fungi lurking in the colony.
Standard human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit: It’s one of those numbers from grade school science textbooks—like 65 million years since the dinosaur extinction or nine eight planets in the solar system—that just gets stuck in your head. But why should it be that balmy temperature and no other?
According to a study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the 98-degree range is in perfect balance.
Every one degree Celsius rise in body temperature wards off about 6 percent more fungal species. So tens of thousands of fungi can infect reptiles and amphibians, but we can only be invaded by a few hundred fungi. In the new work, the researchers created a mathematical model that weighed the fungal protection benefits versus the metabolic cost of high body temperature. And the optimal temperature was 98.1, quite close to what evolution figured out. [Scientific American]
A rare but potentially life-threatening tropical fungus is spreading through the Pacific Northwest, researchers have reported.
The culprit is a new strain of the Cryptococcus gatti fungus, and is known to have been lethal in 25 percent of the reported human infections. C. gatti usually only infects transplant and AIDS patients and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, but the new strain is genetically different, the researchers said. “This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people” [Reuters], says lead researcher Edmond Byrnes.
However, scientists aren’t sounding a public health alert because the death toll is still very small–in the United States, five of the 21 people who contracted the fungus in the have died.
The new strain of the C. gatti fungus has been found in both humans and animals like cats, dogs, and sheep, researchers write in the journal PLoS Pathogens. Because its such a rare infection, researchers warn that physicians could potentially miss diagnosing it.
The chytrid skin fungus is killing frogs around the world, and researchers worry that it is already driving some species to extinction–but until now, no one understood how the fungus killed. Now, new research shows that the fungus disrupts the flow of nutrients through the frogs’ skin, ultimately leading to cardiac arrest.
In the study, which will be published tomorrow in Science, the scientists found that the fungus interferes with the frogs’ ability to absorb electrolytes, the electrically conducive molecules that are vital for muscle and nerve function. Diseased green tree frogs had dramatically lower levels of potassium and sodium in their blood and urine. Says study coautor Wyatt Voyles: “It’s a failure of the electrical system, leading to mechanical failure. If you don’t have a normal electrical system pacing the heart, it won’t pump blood” [Wired.com].
Further experiments confirmed that the electrolyte imbalance led to a heart shutdown. The scientists took electrocardiogram recordings of the frogs’ hearts in the hours before death; and found changes to the rhythm culminating in arrest. Drugs that restore electrolyte balance brought the animals a few hours or days of better health, some showing enough vigour to climb out of their bowls of water; but all died in the end [BBC News]. Researchers’ next task will be to determine exactly how the fungus interferes with the electrolyte absorption: it could be a result of cell damage in the skin, or a toxin produced by the fungus.
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Image: Jamie Voyles, Alex Hyatt, and Frank Fillipi