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Mol Biol Evol. 1992 Sep;9(5):893-904.

Molecular evolution of the fungi: human pathogens.

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Roche Molecular Systems, Alameda, California 94501.


The morphological, ecological, and clinical diversity among ascomycete fungi that are pathogenic to humans suggest that the potential for pathogenicity may have arisen multiple times within these higher fungi. We have obtained 18S ribosomal DNA sequences from a diverse group of human pathogenic fungi in order to determine their evolutionary origins. The fungi studied include a skin pathogen that is confined to humans (Trichophyton rubrum) and three systemic, facultative parasites that cause histoplasmosis (Histoplasma capsulatum), blastomycosis (Blastomyces dermatitidis) and coccidioidomycosis (Coccidioides immitis) in humans and other higher animals. Also included in our analysis are representatives of non-pathogenic fungi, as well as two opportunistic pathogens, Pneumocystis carinii and Candida albicans, that cause severe disease in immunocompromised individuals, especially those with AIDS. Two of the fungi we sequenced, T. rubrum and C. immitis, are limited to asexual modes of reproduction and therefore lack the sexual structures that are most useful for evolutionary comparison as well as being essential for classification among the higher fungi. Coccidioides immitis is particularly problematic owing to its contradictory and confusing asexual morphologies, which have caused it to be placed in three fungal classes and the protista. Our analysis shows that the specialized, superficial parasite and the systemic, facultative parasites, including C. immitis, are closely related ascomycetes, which clearly demonstrates the power of molecular characters to compensate for missing or confusing reproductive morphology. Analysis also shows that the opportunistic pathogens are more distantly related, with the likely explanation that pathogenicity has arisen more than once within the Ascomycetes.

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