Some fungi live inside animal tissues including the human body where they can cause fatal infections. Understanding the molecular mechanisms these fungi utilize before and during infections can lead to developing novel therapeutics and treating disease caused by fungi.

We are interested in answering the following research questions:

  • How and why do fungi transit from environmental settings into humans and other animals?
  • Do endosymbionts influence the pathogenicity of their fungal hosts?
  • Does living inside of animal tissues shape fungal evolution?

Current funding from NSF IOS/BBSRC 2202410:

Investigating microbial predation as a driver of endosymbiosis and phagocyte evasion

Soil microbes compete and as a result have evolved genetic tools to resist their enemies. However, there is also evidence of collaboration including symbioses between microbes known as endosymbiosis, where bacteria live inside fungal cells. These fungal bacterial partnerships allow them to escape predatory soil in the environment. Our collaborative research team has shown that, bacterial endosymbionts together with their fungal hosts can make a powerful toxin that blocks amoebae from swallowing the fungus in the soil. The bacteria also change how the fungus can use its genes to respond to different kinds of stress. This is important because these same fungi and bacteria start in the environment and move into mammalian systems where they can cause diseases. It is also important because soil amoebae are very similar to the cells in the human immune system that are the first line of defense against infection. The ancient fight going on in the soil is therefore a training ground for when endosymbionts and their fungal hosts infect humans. This project examines how frequently soil fungi evade soil amoebae with their endosymbionts help; the implications for fungal housing of endosymbionts; and whether these symbioses lead to co-evolution. To answer these questions, we will look at bacterial-fungal partnerships across a wide range of species, looking for differences and commonalities in their shared genomes. We will also watch these partners interact with amoebae in the lab using sophisticated microscopy and mutant analysis to identify the different strategies they can take to evade their ancient enemy. Finally, we will closely examine one of these pairs in depth to understand the mechanisms that allow these partnerships to exist at the molecular level.