Mycophages: Are they ideal antifungal agents?

As human beings, one of our favorite characters is to be curious. The discovery of bacteriophages that was capable of clearing bacterial colonies thoroughly flooded the internet with questions on the possibility of having one for Fungi. Among the asked questions was "if there were bacteriophages that attack fungus" (the question was indifferent phrases of cause). Well, the most common viruses that attack microorganisms are bacteriophages, although it doesn't mean they attack every other cell and in fact, they simply do not attack the fungus. Let me explain based on the word "bacteriophage". It is derived from two words "bacteria" and "phagein" (the Greek word meaning "to eat"), this implies that these particles eat on bacteria and not any other organisms (viruses are specific, although the phenomenon of viral jumping is there,  not a single incidence has been recorded on phages). Instead, other entities like fungus have got their "phages" that attack and destroy their cells, in the case of Fungus they are called mycoviruses (mycophages).
Fungi. photo by drugtargetreview

What are mycoviruses?

Mycoviruses are viruses that infect fungi, they affect all major taxa of fungi and are transmitted intracellularly during cell division, sporogenesis, and/or cell-to-cell fusion (hyphal anastomosis). These particles lack extracellular activities due to the exclusivity of their transmission mode (horizontal transmission). Many of the mycoviruses are acting in a "lysogenic way" although some have been identified to reduce the virulence of the phytopathogenic fungal hosts. Some studies suggested the possibility of these viruses attacking healthy hosts.

Can mycoviruses be used to treat fungal infections?

The research on mycoviruses for treatment is still naive although scientists have put interest in those that reduce the virulence of their phytopathogenic fungal hosts. There are several studies like the one done by van de Sande et al (2019) discussed the possibility of using mycoviruses to treat pulmonary aspergillosis. This might help us to deal with fungal infections with minimal side effects.

Do we really need an alternative to antifungal drugs?

The very first reason is the emergence of resistant bugs, this happens to all microbes that encounter a certain chemical(s) and survive from it. Resistance has been so commonly referred to as bacterial resistance due to its commonality in disease incidences. The second reason for an alternative antifungal could be side effects. Side effects caused by antifungal drugs are rare but dangerous, including but not limited to heart and liver failure. Antifungal drugs are accompanied by a lot of contraindications especially to people having some conditions (There is an interesting article from the University of Michigan explaining antifungal pills).

Other applications of mycoviruses

  • Cyanophages/phycophages are particularly useful in controlling blooms produced by various genera of algae and cyanobacteria. 
  • Some scientists have tried to use mycoviruses to stop food spoilage especially cereals. 
  • They are widely used in studying viral expression within the host cell
  • Decontaminating surfaces
NB: Most of the applications are still in the experimental stages

Differences between Bacteriophages and Mycophages (mycoviruses)

Bacteriophages Mycophages
They infect bacteria They infect fungus
They are both lysogenic and lytic Most act as lysogenic
They involve attachment as the mode of initiating infection They majorly depend on host cell division and reproduction mode
May have RNA or DNA, single or double-stranded Most fungal viruses belong to double-stranded RNA viruses,30% belong to positive-strand RNA virus and Negative-strand RNA virus.
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3 Comments

  1. It's a nice post, I have never thought of mycoviruses being beneficial. can't wait to receive your newsletter updates.

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