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Agricultural fungicides may be driving resistance

Alan Flurry

New research from the University of Georgia has shown, for the first time, that compounds used to fight fungal diseases in plants are causing resistance to antifungal medications used to treat people.

The study focused on Aspergillus fumigatus, the fungus that causes aspergillosis, a disease that causes life-threatening infections in 300,000 people globally each year. Published in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics, the study linked agricultural use of azoles—compounds used to fight fungal diseases in plants—to diminished effectiveness of the clinical azoles used to treat fungal infections in patients.

Fungi can be a menace for both people and plants, causing over 1.5 million human deaths annually and crop losses of 20%.

It’s not unusual to find A. fumigatus in the environment. It’s airborne, and it’s everywhere. Most people breathe it in without problem, but it can cause serious infections in people who have weakened immune systems.

When they’re infected by a strain of the fungus that’s resistant to agricultural azole fungicide, the clinical azole drugs used in health care are also ineffective.

“Azole-resistant A. fumigatus is widespread in agricultural environments and especially things like compost,” said Michelle Momany, a corresponding author of the study and a professor of fungal biology in the Department of Plant Biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Someone who is immunocompromised and at risk for fungal infections should be very cautious in those settings.”

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Image: Michelle Momany (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

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