About Our Fungal Portraits
The following images show a selection of images of fungi which can cause illness in humans and animals. These photos have been taken using a microscope and some of the images use a stain so that you can see the fungal cells clearly.
With thanks for to: Applied Mycology Group, University of Minho, Portugal; Mycology Online at The University of Adelaide; Niall Hamilton; & Jim Harris who have generously given permission for the use of certain images.
Essential to the nitrogen and carbon cycles, Aspergillus thrives on rotting leaves, and house dust mite poo. Masses of Aspergillus are found in well-loved pillows. Breathed in daily, Aspergillus can cause lung destruction by forming cavities and fungal balls, as well as a silent type of pneumonia in those with leukaemia or on steroids.
Aspergillus also lives in the airways of those with asthma, making asthma worse. Millions of people with asthma are affected by Aspergillus.
Histoplasma causes pneumonia when inhaled. It is found in starling and bat droppings mostly in the Americas, the higher the dose inhaled - the worse the pneumonia. Coughing and high fever after visiting caves which are home to a large colony of bats is a sign of infection.
Flocks of wheeling starlings darkening the evening sky can leave the ground beneath infected. Bob Dylan nearly died of a histoplasma infection.
Women are protected from infection by Paracoccidiodes by their oestrogen. So it affects mainly men. In South America, Paracoccidiodes lives as a fluffy mould in the soil. When breathed in, it changes in the lungs to look like a ship’s steering wheel as it causes infection, a transition blocked by oestrogen. So only men get pneumonia, ulcers in their gums and lymph gland swelling, all caused by Paracoccidioides.
With its sickle-shaped spores, Fusarium causes many plant diseases, including head blight of barley and Panama disease of bananas. While threshing cereal crops, the husk can get into the eye and penetrate the transparent cornea. After rubbing the eye and treatment with local healer’s remedies or antibiotic drops, allows gradual destruction of the cornea by the fungus and then blindness. Over one million eyes go blind each year from fungal infection.
The cause of thrush, Candida can travel through blood vessel cells and leave no trace, like Harry Potter and his invisibility cloak. In its yeast form, Candida is innocuous, living in harmony with bacteria in the human mouth and gut, but once it changes shape to form longer cells, it can invade through the body even though the immune system attempts to block it.
Millions of people get thrush, which is most unpleasant, but Candida is much more dangerous when it penetrates through the intestine getting into the bloodstream, when it becomes deadly. Young babies are particularly susceptible when premature.
Trichophyton fungi thrive on keratin, of which hair and nails are made. Some cause disease in animals such as hedgehogs (Europe and New Zealand). Wrestler’s can pass it from one to another, during a sustained hold (tinea gladiatorum). Athlete’s foot (often not in athletes!), tinea, ringworm, hair loss and toenail infections are all caused by Trichophyton and are very common affecting over 200 million people worldwide.
The yeast Cryptococcus is found in pigeon droppings and eucalyptus trees all over the world. Breathed in, it can cause pneumonia in humans and koalas. Once in the body, it can travel from the lungs to the brain causing the pounding headache of meningitis, common in those with AIDS and occasionally in others. One million cases occur each year worldwide.
Alternaria invades wheat near harvest time. When the wind blows billions of spores are released into the air. Spore storms can carry trillions of mould spores across several hundred miles. Alternaria causes asthma attacks, especially after thunderstorms. Some people are so wheezy and breathless they need hospital care and sometimes artificial ventilation, so called ‘thunderstorm asthma’.