Rare toxic algae identified

May 11, 2010

Scientists have identified an unusual species of pathogenic algae that causes human skin infections, described in a new study in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The finding should improve our understanding of how rare species of algae are sometimes able to cause serious disease in humans and animals.

Researchers from Teikyo University in Tokyo isolated a previously unidentified species of from a biopsy of a human chronic skin ulcer. They named the micro-organism Prototheca cutis after comparison with other strains showed it was genetically similar to Prototheca wickerhamii - a rare algal species that has previously been associated with causing human , septicemia, or meningitis.

Microalgae are a very diverse group of single-celled organisms that are found living in most aquatic environments on Earth. Most algae possess chloroplasts enabling them to fix sunlight into biomass through photosynthesis and are completely harmless to humans. However, Prototheca species that reside in and soil, do not photosynthesise and may occasionally cause infection in immunocompromised humans and other animals by entering open wounds. Skin infections such as discharging ulcers are the most common in humans although occasionally serious systemic infections may occur.

Dr Koichi Makimura who led the team of researchers explained that because there have been so few reported cases of algal infections in humans, effective treatment protocols have not been well-established. "Antifungal drugs are most often used to treat algal infections but are not always successful," he said. "We need to closely monitor Prototheca infections to understand their spread and mechanisms of causing disease, which are as yet unknown. This information will then help us develop appropriate treatments."

Research into pathogenic algae could also have benefits for industry. "Prototheca infection is known to cause bovine mastitis in cattle - an inflammatory disease of the udder that costs the dairy industry millions of pounds each year," explained Dr Kazuo Satoh who conducted the study. "New strategies to control this disease could have a huge economic impact," he said.

Explore further: How do our muscles work? Scientists reveal important new insights into muscle protein

More information: Paper: doi:10.1099/ijs.0.016402-0

Provided by Society for General Microbiology

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Serious disease in pet lizards caused by new bacteria

Sep 19, 2008

Skin infections are common in pet lizards and can lead to fatal organ disease and septicaemia. Infections are particularly risky in lizards that are bred in captivity for release into the wild, as they can spread into the ...

Deadly rugby virus spreads in sumo wrestlers

Sep 29, 2008

Rugby players may get more than just the ball out of a scrum – herpes virus can cause a skin disease called "scrumpox" and it spreads through physical contact. Researchers have studied the spread of the disease among sumo ...

Scientists discover bacteria that can cause bone infections

Oct 17, 2008

Scientists have discovered that a bone infection is caused by a newly described species of bacteria that is related to the tuberculosis pathogen. The discovery may help improve the diagnosis and treatment of similar infections, ...

Wildlife as a source for livestock infections

Oct 07, 2009

A bacterium possibly linked to Crohn's disease could be lurking in wild animals. According to research published in the open access journal BMC Microbiology, Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (Map), can be transm ...

Animals linked to human Chlamydia pneumoniae

Feb 22, 2010

Animals have been found to have infected humans sometime in the past with the common respiratory disease Chlamydia pneumoniae, according to Queensland University of Technology infectious disease expert Profes ...

New bacterium discovered -- related to cause of trench fever

Jun 07, 2007

A close cousin of the bacterium that debilitated thousands of World War I soldiers has been isolated at UCSF from a patient who had been on an international vacation. The woman, who has since recovered, suffered from symptoms ...

Recommended for you

How calcium regulates mitochondrial carrier proteins

12 hours ago

Mitochondrial carriers are a family of proteins that play the key role of transporting a chemically diverse range of molecules across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carriers are part of ...

Team conducts unprecedented analysis of microbial ecosystem

13 hours ago

An international team of scientists from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) have completed a first-of-its-kind microbial analysis of a biological ...

Students create microbe to weaken superbug

Nov 25, 2014

A team of undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo have designed a synthetic organism that may one day help doctors treat MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant superbug.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.