Dry soils with pathogenic microbes may present public health threat

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New research on soil fungal communities in the southwestern United States suggests that the proliferation of spore-producing fungi in increasingly dry soils could represent a future threat to public health.

Adriana Romero-Olivares, PhD, an assistant professor at New Mexico State University, will present her research on the relationships between global change, soil fungi, and potential public health threats during a symposium at the Ecological Society of America’s 2022 Annual Meeting August 14 to August 19 at the Palais des congrès de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec.

Pathogenic fungi release spores that spread easily through airborne dispersal, and these species may be able to endure dust storms and droughts that non-pathogenic species are unable to tolerate.

Romero-Olivares and a team from ETH Zürich, the U.S. Geological Survey and New Mexico State University extracted fungal DNA from vegetated and bare soils, comparing the effects of local conditions on microbial communities. Their work is being used to inform policy makers on the public health threat potential that climate change has on soil fungal communities in the U.S. Southwest.

“It’s not only about the fungi that we know are pathogenic, but also about the fungi that have the potential to become pathogenic,” said Romero-Olivares in a statement. “We have no idea if global climate change may trigger pathogenicity and we really need to start looking into that to prevent future pandemics.”