On 14-15 December, 2010, Ariena van Bruggen attended a workshop on ‘Fungal Diseases: an emerging challenge to human, animal and plant health’, organized by the Institute of Medicine Board on Global Health, Forum on Microbial Threats in the Keck Building of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. The seminar will include an overview of this workshop and some discussion points on potential opportunities for grant applications.
Fungal diseases of animals and humans are on the rise, with the ‘Bat White Nose’ syndrome (Geomyces destructans) in the Eastern USA, amphibian chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) worldwide and human pulmonary cryptococcosis (Cryptococcus gattii) in the Western USA and Canada as glaring examples. These diseases are spreading quickly, resulting in extinctions of bats and amphibians and occasional deaths in otherwise healthy humans. New fungal and oomycetal plant pathogens are also cropping up at an increasing pace, for example sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum) and new strains of wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis f.sp. tritici) and yellow or stripe rust (Puccinia striiformis).
The Forum on Microbial Threats realized that plant pathologists have investigated fungal diseases for many decades and invited several specialists in emerging plant diseases to give presentations for a mostly medical audience. The topics ranged from overviews of the fungi, the spread of emerging fungi, potential reasons for their emergence and spread, fungal pathogenesis and host-pathogen interactions to surveillance, detection and response. An interesting example was given of a plant pathogen (Fusarium oxysporum) becoming a human pathogen by the activation of a different set of pathogenicity genes in the same strains.