Book Review

Pathogenic Fungi: Structural Biology and Taxonomy
Pathogenic Fungi: Host Interactions and Emerging Strategies for Control

Edited by Gioconda San-Blas and Richard A. Calderone
ISBN 0-9542464-7-0; 371 pp.; $199
ISBN 0-9542464-8-9; 470 pp.; $199
Caister Academic Press, 2004

If Nik Money’s Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard, and Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores have you intrigued by the human disease potential of fungi, these two edited compilations of reviews will bring you up to date in many areas of medical mycology. However, be forewarned -- these are not for those with merely a casual interest in the subject. Prerequisites include a strong background in contemporary biology, not to mention a healthy bank account.

Usually we don’t think much about fungi as causes of human disease. We are far more often targeted by bacteria and viruses, whereas fungi tend to focus on plants. However, in recent years, invasive fungal infections have become a major cause of death in patients with aggressive blood disorders, organ transplant recipients, and others with compromised immune systems such as AIDS patients. Thus, it behooves us to at least be aware that our favorite Kingdom of organisms can turn on us (payback for rampant mycophagy?).

Together, the two volumes comprise 840 pages of text, reference citations, and index, plus an occasional figure and even a color plate or two. The contributions are authored by 45 international researchers whose names are unlikely to be familiar to most NAMA members (only a few were to me).

CoverThe first volume (although actually they aren’t numbered) is divided into two sections -- “Fungal Dimorphism and Pathogenicity,” and “New Taxonomic Tools.” The first focuses on the structure and composition of the fungal cell wall and how it is made; the cell cycle of pathogenic fungi; what controls the form and growth of dimorphic fungi (those that can assume either of two forms -- either hyphal or single-celled); and how mathematical modeling can help us to understand these processes. The second section presents new approaches to understanding how different strains of a fungal species vary; the potential significance of different strains for human disease; and how the use of molecular tools contributes to the classification of uncultured or otherwise hard-to-study fungi.

The second volume also is divided into two sections -- “Fungal Interactions with the Host,” and “Antifungal Antibiotics.” A major emphasis of the first is on the two-way recognition systems that exist between them and us. Disrupting these systems, which also are important in formation of lichens, mycorrhizas and other fungal symbioses, is one avenue for prevention of fungal diseases. The section also describes the means by which the fungi avoid our defense mechanisms. The second section deals with the effort to find new drugs to combat these fungi -- looking for aspects of their biology that can be targeted by drug action, how the fungi resist our drugs, and how modeling can be used in this search.

These books clearly are not for everyone. However, if you need, or want, to get up-to-date on the darker side of human-fungal interactions this would be a good place to start.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile, 47:1, 2006