Campus News

Researcher discusses common fungus exposure

Michelle Momany, professor and associate dean of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, spoke with NPR to share her research into Aspergillus following a World Health Organization report of threatening fungi.

Momany studies Aspergillus fumigatus, a common fungus found in decaying leaf litter. The current research into the fungus says, “every one of us inhales between 10 and 100 Aspergillus spores a day.”

“These fungal infections, when you get them, it’s not from another person, you get them from the environment,” said Momany. “While an intact human immune system can easily fend off these fungal pathogens, those who are immunocompromised can’t, which might lead to a clinical infection.”

Momany said that fungal infections are much worse than many people realize, causing as many deaths as malaria each year.

“Oftentimes [fungal diseases] are diagnosed on autopsy, which leads to the problem of them being underreported,” she said.

Momany didn’t participate in the creation of the WHO threatening fungi list but said that the list was important to being able to track fungal infections more accurately.

“What’s great about [the release of the priority list] is to have it all pulled together now in a way that can inform policy. Having the World Health Organization tracking it now and bringing attention to it is just huge,” she said.