Climate crisis could spark fungus outbreak like 'The Last of Us'

Climate crisis could spark deadly fungus outbreaks like HBO’s ‘The Last of US’: Scientists warn of ‘hybrid’ evolving to adapt to warmer temperatures

  • Scientists identified a hybrid fungus that has been in a marine environment 
  • It originated in two species, allowing it to adapt to rising temperatures 
  • READ MORE: Zombie fungus THREE steps away from infecting HUMANS

Scientists have warned HBO’s ‘The Last of Us ‘ has moved one step closer to reality after the discovery of a new hybrid fungus.

Scientists in Barcelona said Candida orthopsilosis originated from two parent strains in a rare event called hybridization as a result of climate change.

The new super-strain has acquired specific properties, such as infecting the human body, growing at higher temperatures and resisting antifungal drugs.

The researchers said hybrids could become more common with rising temperatures and changes in ecosystem conditions, combined with globalization and human action, such as the extensive use of fungicides and antibiotics in agriculture.

HBO ‘s ‘ The Last of Us ‘ may be a fictional series, but scientists have identified a hybrid fungus that has the potential to threaten global health

Lead researcher Dr. Toni Gabaldón from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) said: ‘We have spent years trying to answer the question of what makes some species pathogenic for humans and others, such as those we have in our microbiome, not.

‘Our results show that hybridization—a process that has received little attention so far— allows the rapid acquisition of properties that allow human infection. Therefore, in fungi, this process could be a shortcut to conquer a species like ours.’

During hybridization, divergent genomes and alleles are brought together into the same cell, potentiating adaptation by increasing genomic plasticity. 

Divergent genomes are when two or more ancestral species’ populations accumulate mutations over time.

And alleles are one of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome.

‘In fact, with due caution, this is the plot of the recent and popular miniseries ‘The Last of Us’ (HBO Max), where a fungus quickly acquires an enormous capacity for infection, transmission, and virulence, a perfect cocktail of properties which allows it to decimate humanity in a short time,’ the researchers shared in a statement. 

The newly discovered fungus is part of the Candid family that causes infections such as vaginal candidiasis or systemic candidiasis, which can be fatal for immunocompromised people

The new super-strain has acquired specific properties, such as infecting the human body, growing at higher temperatures and resisting antifungal drugs

‘It is estimated that there are currently more than one million species of fungi, most of which are adapted to live in temperate or low temperatures in the soil, the aquatic environment, trees and plants, and animals such as amphibians, fish, reptiles, and insects.’ 

One parental lineage was identified within the hybrid fungus, which passed on an enriched membrane and cell-wall-related proteins, which could play a role in virulence, adhesion and pathogenesis.

READ MORE: Deadly fungus C auris may be spreading in the community 

Health authorities believe a deadly fungus is now spreading outside of hospitals for the first time. 

And it also took the ability to grow at a faster rate.

‘The presence of parental B in co-existence with several of the previously identified hybrid clades suggests that the warm sea water environment could be a melting pot where these two lineages hybridize,’ reads the study published in Nature.

Dr. Valentina del Olmo said: ‘We saw that the optimal temperature at which strains of C. orthopsilosis grow is 35°C and that they could survive up to much higher temperatures.

‘This observation is worrying because their tolerance surpasses the thermal barrier of mammals, which until now had acted as a protective shield, and paves the way for infecting humans.’ 

The team shared in a press release that C. orthopsilosis appears closely related to Candida auris, which is currently sweeping through US medical facilities. 

 The team said they believe  C. Auris is also a hybrid that formed in the sea and moved to humans in 2009.

There have already been hundreds of outbreaks of this infection worldwide, with a mortality rate of between 30 and 60 percent. 

Scientists point out that it could be the first microorganism that has become a pathogen due to climate change. 

For this work, the team studied nine yeast samples in the Arabian Sea isolated from the marine environment, specifically on the coast of Qatar, finding nearly all were hybrids.

C. orthopsilosis strains have also recently been isolated from tea flowers in Thailand but were not used in this study.

This observation has led them to hypothesize that these fungi might have undergone adaptations that give them an advantage over their parental strains. 

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