Threats Posed by the Fungal Kingdom to Humans, Wildlife, and Agriculture

mBio. 2020 May 5;11(3):e00449-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00449-20.


The fungal kingdom includes at least 6 million eukaryotic species and is remarkable with respect to its profound impact on global health, biodiversity, ecology, agriculture, manufacturing, and biomedical research. Approximately 625 fungal species have been reported to infect vertebrates, 200 of which can be human associated, either as commensals and members of our microbiome or as pathogens that cause infectious diseases. These organisms pose a growing threat to human health with the global increase in the incidence of invasive fungal infections, prevalence of fungal allergy, and the evolution of fungal pathogens resistant to some or all current classes of antifungals. More broadly, there has been an unprecedented and worldwide emergence of fungal pathogens affecting animal and plant biodiversity. Approximately 8,000 species of fungi and Oomycetes are associated with plant disease. Indeed, across agriculture, such fungal diseases of plants include new devastating epidemics of trees and jeopardize food security worldwide by causing epidemics in staple and commodity crops that feed billions. Further, ingestion of mycotoxins contributes to ill health and causes cancer. Coordinated international research efforts, enhanced technology translation, and greater policy outreach by scientists are needed to more fully understand the biology and drivers that underlie the emergence of fungal diseases and to mitigate against their impacts. Here, we focus on poignant examples of emerging fungal threats in each of three areas: human health, wildlife biodiversity, and food security.

Keywords: antifungal resistance; biodiversity; food security; fungal pathogens; global health; medical mycology; plant-pathogenic fungi; wildlife pathogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / microbiology*
  • Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Mycoses / microbiology*
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology*
  • Plants / microbiology