Sep 4, 2012    #108
Contact: John Austin

UMKC and Broad Institute researchers sequence complete genome of Athlete's Foot fungus

Data will help researchers studying treatment and prevention therapies for variety of fungal diseases

Researchers at the UMKC School of Biological Sciences, working with investigators at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., have sequenced the complete genomes for five separate fungi in the dermatophyte group, which cause a variety of fungal infections, including athlete's foot.

The work at UMKC was performed in the lab of Theodore White, Ph.D., Interim Dean and Marion Merrell Dow Professor of Biological Sciences. Dr. White worked closely with Diego Martinez, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate, and Christina Cuomo, Ph.D., Group Leader of the Fungal Genome Sequencing and Analysis Group in the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program at the Broad Institute. The work is published in the Sept. 4 issue of mBio, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Click here for the article.

While fungal infections such as athlete's foot may seem inconsequential, the research uncovered important information about how fungi interact with the human immune system, paving the way for eventual new therapies for treating far more serious diseases.

"These fungi are responsible for some of the most common fungal infections in the world, such as athlete's foot, jock itch, ringworm and various infections of the nails and scalp," Dr. White said. "In the U.S. and other developed countries, the most common of these infections is athlete's foot, while in developing countries, scalp and body infections are more common."

In analyzing the genome sequences of these fungi, Dr. Martinez and his colleagues discovered important new information on the mechanisms behind the infections and how some fungi are seemingly able to "hide" from the human body's immune system.

"One of the most significant things we discovered is that there is a unique relationship between the fungus and the body's immune system, which doesn't appear to be able to eliminate the fungus," Dr. White said. "We found a set of molecules that may actually serve to mask the fungal disease from our immune system."

The genomic information produced by the investigators at UMKC and the Broad Institute may hold the keys to discovering the mechanisms that drive that "masking" effect, Dr. White added, paving the way for researchers to study methods for "unmasking" the disease, thus enabling the immune system to attack it.

"We have also been able to identify some unique toxins, and enzymes responsible for helping the fungus grow on the skin, all of which could be used in drug and vaccine development." Dr. White said. "Our genome sequences will provide a strong foundation for future work in understanding how dermatophytes interact with the human body and cause disease."

About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was founded in 2003 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine with new genome-based knowledge. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods and data openly to the entire scientific community.
Founded by MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to

About the UMKC School of Biological Sciences

The mission of the School of Biological Sciences is to provide outstanding undergraduate and graduate education in modern biology and to advance our understanding of molecular biology through basic research. The school comprises two academic Divisions -- Cell Biology & Biophysics and Molecular Biology & Biochemistry. The School's pioneering programs in molecular genetics, structural biology and proteomics nurture the intellectual capital necessary to fuel the economic development of biotechnology in Kansas City. Learn more about the School at or find us on Facebook.

About the University of Missouri-Kansas City

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 15,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience. For more information about UMKC, visit You can also find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and watch us on YouTube.

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