Bigger spores = badder infection

Larger spores of a deadly fungal pathogen cause more virulent infections in mice.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Jun 17, 2011

Photomicrograph of a mature sporangium of a Mucor fungusCDC/DR.LUCILLE K. GEORG

Larger fungal spores may be more deadly than small ones, according to a study published yesterday (June 16) in PLoS Pathogens. The finding suggests a new way to classify fungi that might inform the treatment of a variety of fungal infections.  Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center studied the effects of large (up to 20 microns or more) and small (4-5 microns) spores of Mucor circinelloides—a fungus that kills some 50 percent of individuals it infects—on laboratory mice, and found that the large spores were more virulent, causing worse infections and more easily evading the immune system. When small spores were coaxed into growing larger, they acted like large spores, suggesting that the opposite may also be true: "This means we might be able to find a way to arrest them in the smaller stage...

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