Chapter 16: Fungi as pathogens of animals, including humans

In this Chapter we study fungi as pathogens of animals, including humans. There are many pathogens of insects amongst the fungi and fungus-like organisms: Microsporidia, Trichomycetes, Laboulbeniales, and entomogenous fungi. Inevitably, discussion of insect disease eventually turns to thoughts of the potential for biological control of arthropod pests. In other animals, cutaneous chytridiomycosis is an Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) of amphibians. We will discuss EIDs in this Chapter. In both animals and plants, an unprecedented number of fungal and fungal-like diseases have recently caused some of the most severe die-offs and extinctions ever witnessed of species in the wild, and they are jeopardising our food security. We have already mentioned some EIDs of plants, especially crop plants. Among animals, fungal EIDs have reduced population abundances in amphibians, bats and even corals across many species and over large geographical areas, and the most recently recognised fungal disease of snakes may have caused declines in some snake populations in the Eastern United States.

Our main concern, though, are the mycoses that are the fungus diseases of humans. We describe the clinical groupings set up for human fungal infections; fungi within the home, and their effects on health through production of allergens and toxins. In the penultimate Section we attempt a comparison of animal and plant pathogens and briefly discuss the essentials of epidemiology. We finish the Chapter with a short discussion of mycoparasitic and fungicolous fungi; that is, fungi that are pathogenic on other fungi.

As with other Chapters, we will introduce you to some important and thought-provoking academic publications in this chapter; and here we will direct you to the Editorial published on 25th July 2017 in the journal Nature Microbiology [DOI:]. If you read no other reference, we suggest you read this. We are so keen on this Editorial because we believe the message of its content should be much more widely appreciated. And we like its title: ‘Stop neglecting fungi’. The following quotation will give you a flavour of its content:

 ‘…over 300 million people suffer from serious fungal-related diseases, … fungi collectively kill over 1.6 million people annually, which is more than malaria and similar to the tuberculosis death toll. Fungi and oomycetes destroy a third of all food crops each year, which would be sufficient to feed 600 million people. Furthermore, fungal infestation of amphibians has led to the largest disease-caused loss of biodiversity ever recorded, while fungi also cause mass mortality of bats, bees and other animals, and decimate fruit orchards, pine, elm and chestnut forests…’

The report published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, State of the World’s Fungi 2018, also coined a memorable phrase: ‘…when looking for nature-based solutions to some of our most critical global challenges, fungi could provide many of the answers’ (Willis, 2018).

The equivalent report published in 2020 (Antonelli et al., 2020), entitled State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 is the first such report to combine plants and fungi ‘… to highlight their intrinsic links and joint benefits’ and ‘In an unparalleled international collaboration, this report draws upon the expertise of 210 researchers in 97 institutions across 42 countries.' The 2020 report is also accompanied by a full volume of expert-reviewed, and open access, scientific publications in the New Phytologist Foundation’s journal Plants, People, Planet (access at Progress in assessing the extinction risk faced by plants enables the estimate that 39.4% of plants on Earth are now threatened with extinction. No similar data are yet available for fungi.

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Updated October, 2020