Genome research on mouth fungi may help predict infections

March 11, 2014, University of Connecticut
Linda Strausbaugh, left, professor of molecular and cell biology, Amanda Dupuy, a Ph.D. student, and Patricia Diaz, assistant clinical professor of periodontology, review research data in a lab at Beach Hall. Credit: Peter Morenus/UConn Photo

(Medical Xpress)—Using a novel genome-based approach, researchers in UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and School of Dental Medicine have identified and described the community of fungi that lives in an average healthy person's mouth.

The findings will eventually help better understand, treat, and possibly prevent the oral infections that can occur in many patients whose immune systems are suppressed, like people undergoing therapy for cancer and the elderly.

These infections often make it hard for people to eat, take medications, and even speak, and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body.

"There has been a lot of genome work done on bacteria in the body, but almost none on ," says Linda Strausbaugh, professor of molecular and cell biology in CLAS.

"This is the first study to identify medically-important oral fungi on a large scale," she notes. "Our study is particularly important because we developed methods to assure the identifications we were making from genomic data were indeed correct. Our long-term goal is to help take a personalized approach to medicine."

The findings are based on the idea that these infections are associated with the disruption of people's normally-functioning complement of bacteria and fungi in their mouths.

Like the complement of non-harmful bacteria in the mammalian gut, many species of bacteria and fungi live peacefully in the mouths of humans and other mammals. Characterizations have typically involved studies that take swabs of people's mouths and then identify fungi by culturing them in the laboratory.

These studies are limited, says Strausbaugh's graduate student Amanda Dupuy, because they rely on getting fungi to grow in laboratory conditions, which are often unfavorable.

"This genomics approach is so important," says Dupuy, "because it uses DNA to identify the full range of fungi found in the mouth."

Strausbaugh, Dupuy, and their colleagues used a novel approach to "breaking" fungi in the laboratory, using special zirconia beads to crack open fungi collected from people's saliva samples, allowing them to investigate the DNA of a wide range of oral fungi.

"Many of us think of fungi solely as mushrooms," says Strausbaugh. "But most are not mushrooms, and some are encapsulated in hard cellular walls, which need to be broken so we can get at the DNA inside."

This approach allowed the research group to identify more than 25 groups of fungi that occurred in more than half of their research subjects, and also to identify a species of fungus that was very prominent but never before observed in the mouth. Dupuy says that these top 25 groups are biomedically important because they represent a baseline description of an average person's mouth.

"Each person has a unique complement of mouth fungi," says Strausbaugh. "We know that people are genetically predisposed to things. So, is it possible that we are predisposed to different communities of fungi?

"The interesting thing here is the potential for predictive ability," Strausbaugh adds. "Can we potentially come up with a set of biomarkers that could predict whether a person is at risk for fungal infections?"

The next step in the group's research, says Patricia Diaz, professor of at the UConn Health Center and the project's director, is to look at how the oral fungal community changes over time in people undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and track whether changes are related to the development of oral lesions. These results could help scientists and medical professionals better predict patients' risk of oral infection.

"Some of these normally harmless fungi, given the right circumstances, could cause mischief," says Strausbaugh. "There is concern about fungi as emerging human pathogens, especially in immunocompromised people, infants, and older adults."

Dupuy, a fifth-year Ph.D. student, says that the project has given her a perspective on how genomics can interact with people's daily lives.

"I always had a vision of helping people by using genetics," she says. "This project has opened my mind to what genetics and genomics can really do."

This research appears in the March 10 issue of PLOS One.

Explore further: Fungi offers new clues in asthma fight

Related Stories

Fungi offers new clues in asthma fight

February 19, 2013
Hundreds of tiny fungal particles found in the lungs of asthma sufferers could offer new clues in the development of new treatments, according to a team of Cardiff University scientists.

Attacking fungal infection, one of the world's major killers

December 23, 2013
Ask someone what the term 'fungus' brings to mind, and chances are it will be an image of something that smells or looks disgusting. Ask David Perlin, executive director of the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers ...

Researchers conduct first genomic survey of human skin fungal diversity

May 22, 2013
While humans have harnessed the power of yeast to ferment bread and beer, the function of yeast or other types of fungi that live in and on the human body is not well understood. In the first study of human fungal skin diversity, ...

Recommended for you

New blood test to detect liver damage in under an hour

May 24, 2018
A quick and robust blood test that can detect liver damage before symptoms appear has been designed and verified using clinical samples by a team from UCL and University of Massachusetts.

Gut bacteria play key role in anti-seizure effects of ketogenic diet

May 24, 2018
UCLA scientists have identified specific gut bacteria that play an essential role in the anti-seizure effects of the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. The study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first ...

Selective neural connections can be reestablished in retina after injury, study finds

May 24, 2018
The brain's ability to form new neural connections, called neuroplasticity, is crucial to recovery from some types of brain injury, but this process is hard to study and remains poorly understood. A new study of neural circuit ...

Space-like gravity weakens biochemical signals in muscle formation

May 23, 2018
Astronauts go through many physiological changes during their time in spaceflight, including lower muscle mass and slower muscle development. Similar symptoms can occur in the muscles of people on Earth's surface, too. In ...

Eating at night, sleeping by day swiftly alters key blood proteins

May 21, 2018
Staying awake all night and sleeping all day for just a few days can disrupt levels and time of day patterns of more than 100 proteins in the blood, including those that influence blood sugar, energy metabolism, and immune ...

Hotter bodies fight infections and tumours better—researchers show how

May 21, 2018
The hotter our body temperature, the more our bodies speed up a key defence system that fights against tumours, wounds or infections, new research by a multidisciplinary team of mathematicians and biologists from the Universities ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.