Phenomenal Fungi Discovery

Spores of the parasitic fungus Strongwellsea acerosa. Infected hosts continue to function for days. Photograph: Faculty of Science/University of Copenhagen

The image above, on its own, would be a mystery calling to be explained. Phoebe Weston  has our attention again, this time with a story from the fungi universe:

Scientists find two new species of fungi that turn flies into ‘zombies

Insect-destroying fungi ‘may represent the next frontier for drug discovery’

A fly infected with the fungus Strongwellsea tigrinae. Spores are discharged through a hole in the abdomen. Photograph: Faculty of Science/University of Copenhagen

Two new fungi species that infect flies and eject spores out of a large hole in the insect’s abdomen “like small rockets” have been discovered in Denmark.

The new species, Strongwellsea tigrinae and Strongwellsea acerosa, are host-specific and rely on two species of Danish fly – Coenosia tigrina and Coenosia testacea, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen.

While most fungi spore once the host is dead, with strongwellsea, the host continues to live for days, carrying out normal activities and socialising with other flies while the fungus consumes its genitals, fat reserves, reproductive organs and finally its muscle, all the while shooting out thousands of spores on to other individuals.

After a few days, the fly lies on its back, spasms for a few hours and then dies, according to research by the University of Copenhagen and the Natural History Museum of Denmark published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.

The unusual tactic of keeping the host alive while releasing spores is called active host transmission (AHT). It is an effective way of getting access to other healthy individuals. Scientists think the fungi could be producing substances that “dope” their hosts (sometimes colloquially referred to as “zombies”), meaning they can stay fresh enough to live for days after infection – only collapsing once there is nothing left in their abdomens but the fungus…

Read the whole story here.

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