Jenny Shelton takes us through the incredible potential of fungi and how this diverse, yet often overlooked, species may hold many of the answers to global challenges, from climate change to food insecurity.
Fungi play important roles in nature, food production, medicine, industry and bioremediation yet we have only discovered ~150,000 out of a potential 6.3 million fungal species. Just recently, a PhD student found undiscovered fungal species in seeds stored at the Millennium Seed Bank and estimates the whole collection might contain up to 1 million new species! You might be surprised to learn that fungi are more closely related to animals, and therefore humans, than they are to plants, and that the combined biomass of all fungi on Earth is 200 times greater than the entire human race.
The responses I often get when I tell someone I’m a mycologist is “Eurgh, I hate mushrooms!” or “Can you cure my athlete’s foot infection?”. It’s no surprise that this is their reaction given how little fungi feature in the U.K. school curriculum, or even in most biology and medical degrees, but it is such a shame given how magnificently diverse the Kingdom of Fungi is. (These responses also, unknowingly, capture the yin and yang of fungi: while this article is about the good that they can do it is important to acknowledge that fungal infections cause misery to millions of people around the world every year.)
Keeping in mind the challenges facing us – climate change, global food insecurity and infectious disease pandemics –I hope you will agree with me that the solutions to many of our problems could be fungal! (more…)
Dr Jonathan Swann’s research looks at thousands of small molecules called metabolites in an attempt to better understand a bigger problem of malnutrition and infection – a vicious combination.
Around the world, chronic undernutrition burdens the lives of over 150 million children. The effects of early life undernutrition can extend beyond infancy, stunting the physical and cognitive development of children. This stunting can often have wider societal effects including a decrease in the productivity and economic output of a community, restricting its overall progress. To make matters worse, chronic undernutrition is closely associated with repeated and persistent infections.
Such infections are common in resource-constrained settings due to inadequate water supplies and lack of access to basic healthcare. This double burden of malnutrition and infections can combine to drive inflammatory processes in the gut leading to malabsorption of nutrients and impaired immune responses, further exacerbating the malnourished state and persistence of infections. Breaking this cycle of undernutrition, infections and poverty represents a significant challenge.
Dr Aaron Lett and Professor Gary Frost explain how Imperial is leading initiatives to address undernutrition in low-middle income countries.
Undernutrition is still a big problem in 2019.
Of the 5.6 million child deaths which occur globally, it is estimated 45% of them can be attributed to undernutrition. The majority of undernutrition occurs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and manifests as stunting, wasting, and underweight.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that today, 155 million children under five years are stunted, 52 million children are wasted, and 17 million are severely wasted. In addition to the negative health impact, undernutrition has significant economic and social implications on these LMICs. Despite current treatments that aim to reverse the nutritional status of individuals with undernutrition, there is still significant morbidity and mortality. (more…)