Speakers and abstracts

Academy Symposium Fungi & Global Challenges

We use fungi in daily life for many things: We eat them, drink them and take them as antibiotics and medicines. However, fungi also have a darker side: We know that they cause diseases in plants, man and animal. How significant are these fungal threats and how should we deal with them? In this special Academy Symposium, David Denning and Sarah Gurr, two world-leading scientists outline the major threats we are facing and discuss how we might control them.

Hope on the Horizon for Reducing Death and Misery from Fungal Diseases

Professor David Denning, University Hospital of South Manchester

Across the world, over 10 million people are at risk of dying of a fungal infection annually, an estimated 2 million potentially lethal infections occur and over 1.6 million die. In additional, over 14 million develop long term lung infections and/or allergy after TB, asthma or cystic fibrosis and 135 million women have genital thrush several times a year. Recently major improvements in diagnostics allow earlier diagnosis and better therapy, even discontinuing unnecessary antibacterial and antifungal therapies. There is a major need build capacity and expertise in this area, to reduce deaths, pressure towards antibacterial and antifungal resistance and to reduce ill-health. Adequate and well established antifungal agents have been available since the 1960’s (amphotericin B), 1970’s (flucytosine) and 1990’s (fluconazole and itraconazole), yet the first 2 are unavailable in many countries. As GDP grows, so countries will have increased cancer treatment rates, and consequent fungal infections, increased diabetes and asthma, and increasing rates of Pneumocystis pneumonia. Several new antifungal agents are in various stages of development.

Professor David Denning is Professor of Infectious Diseases in Global Health at the Education and Research Centre of the University Hospital of South Manchester. Professor Denning is a practising physician at one of Manchester's University Hospitals with expertise in fungal infections, particularly aspergillosis, antifungal resistance, the treatment of fungal infection, and infection in immunocompromised patients. He is the author of more than 450 research papers and chapters, mostly on fungal disease, resistance in fungi and treatment of fungal infection. Besides, professor Denning is the driver of the Leading International Fungal Education (LIFE; www.LIFE-Worldwide.org) and Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (www.GAFFI.org) actions. Furthermore he is the director of the UK National Aspergillosis Centre an the managing editor of the Aspergillus Website.

Global Food Security: Food, Famine and Fungi

Sarah Gurr, University of Exeter

Fungal diseases have been increasing in severity and scale since the mid 20th Century and now pose a serious challenge to global food security and ecosystem health. Indeed, we have demonstrated recently that the threat to plants of fungal infection has now reached a level that outstrips that posed by bacterial and viral diseases combined. This presentation will highlight some of the more notable persistent fungal diseases of plants of our times. It will draw attention to the emergence of new variants of old foes affecting crop yields and to fungi decimating our natural and managed landscapes. I shall review some of our recent work looking at the movement of fungi pole-wards in a warming world, at the global distributions of crop pests and pathogens, and at the saturation rate of crops by such organisms. The talk will conclude with some thoughts on the emergence of new pathogens and new variants of old foes on our crops, and on ways to better maximize global food production by safeguarding our crops from disease.

Professor Sarah Gurr was recently appointed to the Chair in Food Security, a post created by the University of Exeter in association with BBSRC and Rothamsted Research. She is Head of Biosciences. Professor Gurr was previously Professor of Molecular Plant Pathology at Oxford and formerly President of The British Society of Plant Pathology. She sits on the BBSRC Council. She was educated at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, where she was awarded the Huxley medal for excellence. She held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship prior to her appointment at Oxford and then, at Oxford, she held a Royal Society Senior Research and a NESTA Fellowship. Professor Gurr’s interests are in crop diseases, with particular emphasis on fungal infestations and their global movement and control. She is also interested in fungal biotechnology. She has authored or co-authored over 100 publications, including recent papers in Nature, Nature Climate Change, Science and the recent UK Government Foresight policy document on ‘Biological Hazards’. In conjunction with scientists at Exeter, she has contributed to a ‘Climate Change’ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).