Oh my cology!
April 9, 2009 5:18 PM   Subscribe

An epidemic fungus seems to be killing off frogs. An epidemic fungus seems to be killing off bats. An epidemic fungus may be killing off bees. Might these three epidemics be related? And is a fungus coming for us next?

The chytrid fungus is killing frogs. White-nose syndrome, bats. And a possible cause of colony collapse disorder , which is taking out beehives, is a fungus. I can't help wondering if these things are related; it seems odd to me that three huge spokes in the wheel all get attacked at once. Is this unusual and might they be connected?
posted by Camofrog to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Correlation does not equal causation, and as far as I can tell, there's no reason to suspect that the three are related.

There are epidemics like this happening all the time - they just aren't always well-publicized. A few other popular epidemics that come to mind are the Chestnut blight fungus, Kudzu, Gypsy moths, and various fungii or mites that cause Witches' Brooms in trees.

Nature is in a constant state of wafare. Predators adopt new tactics, prey evolve new defenses. One group of microorganisms start producing an antibiotic to get the upper hand, others evolve resistance. C'est la vie.

I find it rather funny (and tragic) that most humans only seem to care when it affects the cute species.
posted by chrisamiller at 5:59 PM on April 9, 2009

Sure - death caps and destroying angels are out to get you. Best not to snack on them.
posted by foodgeek at 6:08 PM on April 9, 2009

If you live in Bakersfield or anywhere else in California's Central Valley, a fungus is already coming for you.
posted by The World Famous at 6:14 PM on April 9, 2009

There's actually a fungus that causes a form of Meningitis. You probably don't need to worry about it unless you have AIDS, though.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:42 PM on April 9, 2009

Best answer: We just talked about Cryptococcus gattii in my mycology class today and the fact that it is spreading to the mainland of Canada and coming down into Washington. See here.
posted by rainygrl716 at 7:05 PM on April 9, 2009

Response by poster: Mmm, most people don't consider bats or bees pettably cute (and I think it's becoming more and more less true that most people only care about "cute" animals), and the other epidemics mentioned are limited to a single species. The frogs and bats affected involve many species. All these animals play a key role in their ecosystem. Which is why it seems more unusual to me than your average chestnut blight.
posted by Camofrog at 7:08 PM on April 9, 2009

Best answer: Send in the funguses?

Don't bother, they're here:

Cryptococcus gattii, also known as Cryptococcus neoformans var gattii, is a yeast (fungus) found in tropical and subtropical climates. If a human or animal breathes in spores or cells, it causes a lung infection called cryptococcosis which can be fatal if it spreads to the central nervous system and causes meningitis. In recent years it has made an appearance in British Columbia, Canada, and scientists are concerned this is linked to global warming.[1] From 1999 through to early 2008, 216 people in British Columbia contracted the disease, resulting in eight fatalities.[2] The fungus also infects animals, such as dogs and dolphins.[3] In 2007, the fungus appeared for the first time in the United States, in Whatcom County, Washington.[4]

Late last year this killed the father of a good friend of mine. One day he was working in his garden near Olympia Washington, two days later he was short of breath, and a month later he was dead despite the fact that he got the proper diagnosis fairly early on. He was in his 70's, but extremely fit and healthy. One of the red potatoes he grew for us is still in good condition in the pantry.
posted by jamjam at 7:08 PM on April 9, 2009

Response by poster: Cryptococcus gattii--holy crap, I wasn't really serious about that last part. We're doomed.
posted by Camofrog at 7:11 PM on April 9, 2009

Working link.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:14 PM on April 9, 2009

Thanks, Civil_Disobedient.
posted by jamjam at 7:26 PM on April 9, 2009

Best answer: CCD isn't a great example. Neither nosema nor varroa mites, the prime suspects, are funguses, and no one really knows exactly what's going on with CCD. The best guesses so far are some combination of mites, stress on commercial hives and some Israeli paralyis virus.
posted by electroboy at 7:55 PM on April 9, 2009

Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) is fungal, can cause things as nasty as meningitis and death, has been known to infect lots of different animals (mammals), and has been investigated by the U.S. as a possible biological weapon.
posted by The World Famous at 8:03 PM on April 9, 2009

Best answer: I'm not sure if it helps your question, but these diseases are not particularly closely related just because they are fungal. Chytrids are a very obscure and primitive side arm of the fungus kingdom that live pretty much only in water. The suspected fungus in white nose is an Ascomycete, which is the same phylum as Coccidoides, the cause of valley fever, yeast (including things like brewers yeast and Candida which is what most human yeast infections are). Cryptococcus is a Basidiomycete, as are most mushrooms.

These phyla are as closely related as phyla in the animal world, so like the relationship between us and a sponge or worm.

Now, that aside, it is true that fungal infections pose a great risk. The vast majority of medical work has been focused historically on bacteria and viruses and we have significantly fewer options in fighting fungal infections. One reason for that is that fungal infections are harder to treat because they, like us, are eukaryotes. Bacteria are prokaryotes and so there are many medicines that target their particular cell structure while ignoring ours.

Fighting fungal infections means attacking cells that are structured the same as ours, and so many anti-fungal agents have the goal of killing the fungus before they kill us (or the bat or bee or plant).
posted by hydropsyche at 4:45 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I also should have said that the other thing that's happening is human interference. Just like dutch elm and chestnut blight, fungi are spread globally by trade. The chytrid killing amphibians originated in Africa, in a population of frogs that is immune to it, and was spread world-wide by exporting those frogs.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:08 AM on April 10, 2009

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