Caffeine shot delivers wakeup call on antifungal drug resistance

September 09, 2020

The management of fungal infections in plants and humans could be transformed by a breakthrough in understanding how fungi develop resistance to drugs.

It was previously thought that only mutations in a fungi's DNA would result in antifungal drug resistance. Current diagnostic techniques rely on sequencing all of a fungi's DNA to find such mutations.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have discovered that fungi can develop drug resistance without changes to their DNA - their genetic code.

The new research, published in Nature, finds that resistance can emerge in fungi without genetic changes. Instead the fungi exhibit epigenetic changes - alterations that do not affect their DNA - suggesting that many causes and cases of antifungal resistance could have been previously missed.

Each year fungal diseases affect billions of people globally, causing an estimated 1.6 million deaths.

Infections resistant to treatment are a growing problem, particularly in patients with weakened immune systems such as those with HIV. Few effective antifungal drugs exist.

Overuse of agricultural fungicides is also leading to increasing resistance in soil borne fungi. Fungal disease results in the loss of up to a third of the world's food crops annually.

A team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh's Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology studied the emergence of resistance in a yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, by treating it with caffeine to mimic the activity of antifungal drugs.

The team discovered that the resulting resistant yeast had alterations in special chemical tags that affect how their DNA is organized. Some genes became packed into structures known as heterochromatin, which silences or inactivates underlying genes, causing resistance as a result of this epigenetic change.

This discovery could pave the way for new therapies to treat resistant infections by modifying existing epigenetic drugs or developing new drugs that interfere with fungal heterochromatin.

Improved fungicides to treat food crops could limit agricultural losses and also reduce the number of resistant fungal strains in the environment that continue to fuel increased infections in humans.

Professor Robin Allshire, who led the study at the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology, Institute of Cell Biology, School of Biological Sciences, said: "Our team is excited about the possible implications that these findings may have for understanding how plant, animal and human fungal pathogens develop resistance to the very limited number of available and effective antifungal drug treatments."

Sito Torres-Garcia, Darwin Trust of Edinburgh funded PhD student and first author of the paper, said: "Our study shows for the first time that fungal cells can develop drug resistance by altering how their DNA is packaged, rather than altering their DNA sequence."
-end-
The study was funded by Wellcome and The Darwin Trust of Edinburgh.

For further information please contact: Rhona Crawford, Press and PR Office, 0131 650 2246, rhona.crawford@ed.ac.uk

University of Edinburgh

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.