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Coloured Scanning Electron Micrograph of the fungus Candida albicans

Using an algorithm they developed, researchers identified a fungus that makes a chemical weapon against infectious fungi such as Candida albicans (pictured). Credit: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library

Biochemistry

A smart genome scan could help scratch the itch for new antifungal drugs

Genome mining uncovers how a fungus makes a chemical agent against others of its kind.

The key to creating new antifungal drugs might be hiding in the genomes of fungi that need to protect themselves from their own chemical weapons.

To defend itself against other fungi, Penicillium restrictum makes a molecule called restricticin, which blocks a crucial fungal enzyme. Shutting down the enzyme can curb the growth of fungi, such as Candida albicans, that infect humans.

How P. restrictum makes restricticin has been unknown, but Yi Tang at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues realized that any fungus that makes restricticin would also need to protect itself from its own poison. They suspected that the fungal genes that encode restricticin might sit close to genes for a restricticin-resistant version of its target enzyme.

The researchers built a genome-mining algorithm to look for genes encoding a resistant enzyme near clusters of genes that could potentially make restricticin. The algorithm led to the discovery of the biosynthetic pathway for restricticin — and showed that the compound is also produced by other species of fungus. The authors hope that their genome-mining method will lead to the identification of other naturally occurring antifungal substances.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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