Researchers Discover Candida auris Can Reproduce Sexually
A deadly fungus–Candida auris (C. auris) - has shaken up the biological world, according to an article published in Science Daily. Scientists are puzzled by the fungus’ ability to reproduce sexually, opening up the possibility for genetic variations and resistance to medications.
Microorganisms, including fungus, usually reproduce asexually. This means that the genetic material of any offspring replicates the sole parent, as opposed to the genetic scrambling that happens when two parents sexually reproduce and donate genetic material to an offspring. The latter is true for C. auris, which diverges from the norm by reproducing sexually. Since its discovery in 2009, scientists have speculated on how Candida auris contributes to the recent increase in bug-related illnesses.
A team of researchers at McMaster University has investigated the Canada-native fungus to find out what this new category of organism means for science. Since the fungus can seriously impact the health of an exposed person, immunocompromised persons in hospitals became a focal point.
In one particular Canadian hospital, three different lineages of the parent Candida auris have been found. Since only five strains were noted when this article was authored, it’s surprised scientists to discover that sexual reproduction occurred multiple times in the same hospital, potentially affecting the same patient.
Jianping Xu, a professor in McMaster’s biology department and a researcher associated with Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, explained what the hospital findings mean.
"The mixing of strains in the same hospital, potentially in the same patient, creates an opportunity for them to meet and mate," he said. "This study is about sex, and the implication of sex to organisms is often very broad. For fungi, it means they can spread genes that are beneficial to them much faster through populations than asexual reproduction alone."
Previously completed research revealed other details about the fungus, including how it prefers to travel. With colleagues from the University of Delhi, common produce was examined for traces of the fungus. Both royal gala and red delicious apples were found to have strains of Candida auris that had become drug-resistant. Even more troubling, these apples had been treated with fungicides. This final detail demonstrates how easily the fungus can evade typical pest-control measures.
Xu explained how knowledge of the reproductive cycle of C. auris can be used to deepen scientific understanding of pathologies.
"The research tells us that this fungus has recombined in the past and can recombine in nature, which enable it to generate new genetic variants rather quickly," Xu said. "That may sound frightening, but it's a double-edged sword. Because we learned they could recombine in nature, we could possibly replicate the process in the lab, which could allow us to understand the genetic controls of virulence and drug resistance and potentially other traits that make it such a dangerous pathogen, much faster."
Even though scientists expect that sexual reproduction of Candida auris seldom occurs, nonetheless, its biology needs to be understood so it can be used as a tool. It’s unknown whether Xu and the team at the University of Delhi will continue to receive funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada or additional grants from McMaster’s Faculty of Science’s Global Science Initiative, but the deadly potential of C. auris will require additional laboratory research for full understanding.