Publish Date: 29.06.2011

Category: News from the University

We would like to inform the Slovenian public about the incredible popularity gained by the article entitled “Dishwashers – A Man-Made Ecological Niche Accommodating Human Opportunistic Fungal Pathogens” published in Fungal Biology, online 7 May 2011, ISSN 1878-6146, DOI: 10.1016/j.funbio.2011.04.007.
Today (28 June 2011), one week has passed since this press release was published:

My Dishwasher is Trying to Kill Me
New research finds harmful fungal pathogens living in dishwasher seals

Oxford, 21 June 2011 - A potentially pathogenic fungus has found a home living in extreme conditions in some of the most common household appliances, researchers have found. A new paper published in the British Mycological Society journal, Fungal Biology, published by Elsevier, shows that these sites make perfect habitats for extremotolerant fungi (which includes black yeasts). Some of these are potentially dangerous to human health. 
Modern living comes with an increasing need for electrical household equipment such as dishwashers, washing machines and coffee machines. A characteristic of these appliances is a moist and hot environment. In the case of dishwashers, high temperatures of between 60o to 80oC are intermittently produced and aggressive detergents and high concentrations of salt are used in each washing cycle.
The article focuses on the occurrence of potentially pathogenic fungal flora located in dishwashers, over a sample of private homes from 101 cities on 5 continents. 62% of the dishwashers contained fungi on the rubber band in the door, 56% of which accommodated the polyextremotolerant black yeasts Exophiala dermatitidis and E. phaeomuriformis. Both Exophiala species showed remarkable tolerance to heat, to high salt concentrations, to aggressive detergents, as well as to both acid and alkaline water. This is a combination of extreme properties not previously observed in fungi.
Exophiala species are rarely isolated from nature, but they are frequently encountered as agents of human disease, both in compromised and healthy people. They are also known to be involved in the pulmonary colonization of patients with cystic fibrosis, and also occasionally cause fatal infections in healthy humans. The invasion of black yeasts into our homes represents a potential health risk.
The discovery of this widespread presence of extremophilic fungi in some of our common household appliances suggests that these organisms have embarked on an extraordinary evolutionary process that could pose a significant risk to human health in the future.
The article, “Dishwashers – A Man-Made Ecological Niche Accommodating Human Opportunistic Fungal Pathogens” by P. Zalar, M. Novaka, G.S. de Hoog and N. Gunde-Cimerman appears in the journal Fungal Biology (doi:10.1016/j.funbio.2011.04.007).

To date (28 June 2011), the article – and, by association, the University of Ljubljana – has generated the following responses:
Google now shows as many as 2,950,000 hits related to this subject, the article was mentioned in over 80 international magazines (Scientific American, Herald Tribune, New York Times, etc.), the author, Prof. Dr. Nina Gunde-Cimerman, has given interviews etc. for around twenty TV stations, radio shows, newspapers ...

Well, as the latest piece of news (28 June 2011), professor Gunde-Cimerman has today informed us that she found out that the Slovenian Research Agency did not approve the project with the same name because one of the two reviewers in the second round (biotechnology) did not consider the project “relevant” enough. Relevance is a mighty strange thing, is it not? Ladies and gentlemen in charge of the Slovenian Research Agency, will you do anything about it?