PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The success of a fungal pathogen in becoming a persistent and opportunistic source of infection in human beings may be due to a mating strategy that can best be described as “don’t be too choosy.” A new Brown University study finds that Candida albicans will respond to the pheromones of several different species, not just its own, and if an opposite-sex partner isn’t around, it can switch over to same-sex mating. In affairs of DNA exchange — for the yeast has no heart — Candida is exquisitely pragmatic.
When the yeast is not in a sexually active state, the same wide variety of pheromones can inspire it to clump together in tough-to-treat biofilms, said Richard Bennett, professor of biology and co-author of the paper published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The surprising finding that Candida albicans is so indiscriminate about pheromones could help in the fight against infections, which can sometimes be deadly for patients with compromised immune systems, Bennett said. The study illuminates both how the yeast may genetically adapt and how it can be induced to form biofilms.