Study finds widespread exposure to drug-resistant fungal spores

Citizen scientists help uncover overall exposure to drug-resistant fungal bioaerosols.

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The emergence and spread of drug-resistant fungal infections have become a significant public health concern worldwide. As medical professionals and researchers strive to address this critical issue, integrating citizen science offers a powerful and innovative approach to augment data collection efforts.

This collaborative study, “Citizen Science Shows Widespread Exposure to Drug-Resistant Fungal Spores,” aims to explore the prevalence and distribution of drug-resistant fungal spores in the environment. By engaging citizen scientists, we expand our reach, gathering extensive data on this growing threat.

The findings of this study will provide valuable insights into the scale of exposure and contribute to the development of effective strategies for prevention and containment, uniting scientists and the public in our collective effort to combat drug-resistant fungal infections at Imperial College London.

Aspergillus fumigatus, crucial for plant and soil decomposition, can pose a severe health threat to humans, causing aspergillosis. Dr. Jennifer Shelton and her team conducted a groundbreaking study, published in Science Advances, using a unique citizen science approach to investigate drug resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus.

During the 2018 and 2019 seasonal equinoxes and solstices, citizen scientists across the UK collected air samples, with half containing cultured Aspergillus fumigatus isolates. Analysis revealed that approximately 1 in 20 inhaled spores were resistant to the agricultural fungicide tebuconazole. These findings emphasize the need for urgent research and action to address the escalating issue of drug resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus.

The report highlights that the fungicide tebuconazole, the third most used azole in agriculture, indicates fungi developing resistance to medical drugs used for treating aspergillosis. Calculations reveal that individuals in the UK are exposed to drug-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus spores for approximately 22 days annually.

Dr. Jennifer Shelton, Molecular Ecologist at UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “We set out to determine the levels of azole-resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus spores circulating in UK air and could not have achieved this without the contribution of our citizen scientist volunteers. Once we understand the scale of the problem, we can begin to mitigate it and help those most at risk of developing aspergillosis to reduce their exposures.”

Tebuconazole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus spores in the environment raise significant concerns regarding their potential implications for human health. As tebuconazole belongs to the azole class of antifungal drugs used to treat aspergillosis, its cross-resistance indicates the possible ineffectiveness of medical therapies against drug-resistant strains.

The extensive sampling conducted through citizen science involvement offers a comprehensive perspective on landscape-scale exposures to drug-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus. These findings warrant further investigation into the factors contributing to the emergence and spread of resistance.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer M. G. Shelton, Johanna Rhodes, Christopher B. Uzzell et al., Citizen science reveals landscape-scale exposures to multi azole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus bioaerosols. Science Advances. DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adh8839.
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