A team of scientists from Brazil collected samples from ‘ornithogenic’ soil nests of Antarctic birds, pictured below. They set out to assess the fungi from these samples, both in terms of species and potential virulence to humans.
The team isolated 481 different fungal species at 15 degrees centigrade, of which only 50 grew at 37 degrees centigrade. The most common species found included Aspergillus fumigatus, Penicillium chrysogenum and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa. They found that 14 different species showed virulence factors in vitro, such as the ability to grow at neutral pH and under xerophilic conditions, haemolytic activity, spores <5µm, polymorphism capabilities and resistance to antifungal drugs.
The authors note that many species of Antarctic birds migrate great distances, and so could transfer resistant pathogenic fungi between continents, particularly South America and Oceania. They further postulate that, with the effects of climate change, a gradually warming Antarctic could allow more fungi living in a latent state to become available to migrating bird populations.