• Fighting Fungal Infections with Chromatography

GC-MS

Fighting Fungal Infections with Chromatography

Feb 19 2016

Fungi are amongst the most abundant organisms on earth — most are invisible to us, due to both their size and where they like to operate — in soil decomposing dead matter, but that doesn’t diminish their role in the cycle of life.

Fungi have many beneficial uses that help to keep life cycles turning and provide us with many foodstuffs and benefits. One of their key roles is in the recycling of organic matter as they decompose dead plants and animals — recycling them to provide key nutrients in the soil. Humans have also incorporated fungi in their diet as mushrooms — and use fungi in many processes to produce foodstuffs such as bread, beer and soy sauce.

Not so fun-guy fungi

But there is another side to fungi too. Fungi produce bioactive substances — both useful to humans and not so useful. Whilst the psychotropic compounds in some mushrooms give people a trip — some bioactive compounds found or produced by fungi are toxic to humans, causing a painful death a few hours after consumption or giving an irritating itch known as athlete’s foot.

One group of fungi, Candida, are the most common cause of fungal infections in humans. They are yeasts which usually harmlessly inhabit our bodies — on our skin or in a mucous membrane. However, when our immune systems are weakened or a membrane is damaged — we cannot keep the Candida fungi in check. They can get into places they shouldn’t through a damaged membrane or a fungi population growth can occur — then we get an infection.

Candida and thrush

The most common cause of fungal infections is Candida albicans, and an overgrowth in the mouth or gut can cause oral candidiasis — more commonly known as thrush — an unpleasant infection. However, there are many other types of Candida that we carry that can cause infection — and to treat the fungal infection effectively the fungi causing the infection should be known.

Although a visual inspection by the GP is likely to give a correct diagnosis, knowing the exact cause of the infection can be a lengthy process involving culture tests taking a few days in a lab. All very time consuming.

GC-MS speeds the process up

A recent article in the journal Mycoses could point the way towards a simple test that your GP could perform — and gas chromatography is a key element. The team used GC-MS to identify the volatiles emitted by Candida species in laboratory based tests. By analysing the VOCs they were able to discriminate between four of the key Candida species that can cause thrush. Analysis of VOCs is discussed in the article, Volatile Organic Compound Determination in Health-related Research: A Review.

The authors acknowledge that there is quite a lot of work to do, with in-vivo tests on healthy and infected people, and determining whether Candida species emit the same volatiles from different patients — but the work may one day mean the analysis could take place in your doctor’s surgery.

Image from Wikimedia commons

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