What Is Aspergillus Latus? Coronavirus Patients Are Dying Due to Unusual Fungal Infection

  • For the first time scientists found hybrid fungi Aspergillus latus in a hospital

  • The new hybrid fungi is more drug-resistant than its two parents

A group of scientists has discovered for the first time that a hybrid fungus is involved in severe lung infection and now they are investigating its role in novel Coronavirus, as several COVID-19 patients have died after coming in contact with Aspergillus.

This fungus was first cataloged in 1729 by the Italian priest and biologist Pier Antonio Micheli and previously found only in soil or plants. But for the first time, scientists found Aspergillus latus, a species of fungus in the genus Aspergillus, in a hospital environment.

The group of researchers sequenced the genome of the fungus and discovered that it is actually a hybrid and is up to three times more drug-resistant than the two species from which it derives and mentioned it as a highly dangerous in a study which was published in Current Biology.

Aspergillus Latus and COVID-19 Relation

Coronavirus Patients
Representative Image Wikipedia

In collaboration with German researchers, Gustavo Henrique Goldman, a professor at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil with a professor at Vanderbilt University in the U.S., Antonis Rokas, are now collecting samples of fungi present in the lungs of Coronavirus infected patients.

As per the study, the main motive behind this research has been to find out how these organisms can aggravate their condition as a basis for developing strategies to avoid and combat infections.

Prof Goldman said almost in 90 percent of cases, infection by Aspergillus is caused by A. fumigatus,'' which is widely found in plants and soil. But in some human genetic diseases, 'A. nidulans' is a more frequent cause which is one of many species of filamentous fungi in the phylum Ascomycota.

"To our surprise, six out of 10 samples contained a fungus that had never before been found to infect people. The fungus gains significant advantages from being a hybrid," he said adding that currently, the team of scientists is looking into four strains, isolated from patients who died of COVID-19. The researchers have decided to sequence their genomes to identify the species and find out if they are favored by the disease.

Aspergillus Latus Has Been Found in a Hospital
The species is more drug-resistant than its two parents and highly dangerous for patients with respiratory diseases and compromised immune systems. Gustavo H. Goldman / USP

The cases of concomitant COVID-19 and infection by the fungi of the genus Aspergillus have shown the importance of knowing more about such microorganisms. As of now, experts have found that A. fumigatus is capable of surviving under extreme weather conditions, including temperatures of up to 70 degrees Celcius and a shortage of nutrients.

"We've now brought to light another feature of the genus, which is the formation of hybrids," noted Prof Goldman.

The study revealed that scientists collected samples of the fungi from Portugal, Belgium, the US, and Canada. The samples mainly found in material collected from COVID-19 patients with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis and other disorders, which include chronic granulomatous disease, caused by a genetic dysfunction that affects the immune system, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

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