By Jonny Lupsha, News Writer
A newly discovered fungus-like organism was shown at a Paris zoo Wednesday, Reuters reported. The creature behaves like an animal though it appears to be a fungus. Fungi are often cause for health concerns, great and small.
According to the Reuters article, the bizarre creature fits no current taxonomy of life on Earth. “[It] has no mouth, no stomach, no eyes, yet it can detect food and digest it,” the article said. “The blob also has almost 720 sexes, can move without legs or wings, and heals itself in two minutes if cut in half.” Even if you don’t encounter this exact as-yet-undetermined species of wildlife on your next camping trip, there are plenty of things to know about fungal infections, which are the cause of many well-known health problems and have even shaped human history.
“The Irish Potato Famine began in 1845,” said Dr. Barry C. Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “The fungus killed off Ireland’s potato crops and more than a million people died of starvation and illness brought on by malnutrition.”
Unfortunately, the death toll was so high because of how integrated potatoes were in the Irish diet, and at the time, nobody knew why their crops were going bad.
“The cause was an airborne fungus that had traveled from Mexico to Ireland in the holds of ships traveling to Ireland,” Dr. Fox said. “The fungus was destroying the roots of the potato plant. Besides hunger, many people died from diseases associated with malnutrition, which indirectly causes deficiencies in the immune system, making those affected more prone to infectious diseases.”
It was 16 years before a doctor discovered that a fungus caused the potato famine.
Scratching the Surface of Fungus among Us
One of the best-known types of fungal infections—and certainly one of which to be wary—is the surface-based infection, known as dermatophytes, which live in the dead outer layers of our skin, hair, and nails.
“Kertain is the primary structural protein of these body components,” Dr. Fox said. “Dermatophytes secrete an enzyme, keratinase, which partially digests layers of these body components. The disruption of keratin causes the loss of hair, scaling of the skin, and crumbling of the nails.”
“Superficial fungal infections are also nicknamed as ‘tinea,’” Dr. Fox said. “Tinea corporis forms a ring shape with a red raised border and is known as ringworm. When they involve the foot, they are known as tinea pedis, causing ‘athlete’s foot.’ Athlete’s foot causes cracking and peeling of skin between the toes.”
“Candida species, like bacteria, are part of the body’s normal microbiota,” Dr. Fox said. “When antibiotics can kill the bacteria but not the yeast, candida can take over and expand their growth without competition. Candida can also be involved in body-wide infections in patients who are hospitalized and subjected to extensive antibiotic therapy and invasive medical devices such as intravenous catheters.”
With such a wide variety of fungi in every part of the world, it’s little wonder that scientists are still discovering new species. The aptly nicknamed “blob” will likely be studied for years to come and may even result in new causes for concern.
Dr. Barry Fox contributed to this article. Dr. Fox is a Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University.