About 100,000 fungal species have been identified so far and 1.5 million are estimated to exist. Yet only few fungi are known to cause severe systemic infection in humans and most of them are environmental pathogens that do not require animal hosts to complete their life cycle. My research interests concern: (1) how do these few fungi evolve to be pathogenic, (2) what are the molecular mechanisms governing their virulence, and (3) how morphological differentiation impacts on fungal virulence.
My laboratory studies two environmental pathogens that represent the two major phyla in the fungal kingdom: Aspergillus fumigatus, an ascomycetous filamentous fungus causing allergies and invasive aspergillosis, and Cryptococcus neoformans, a basidiomycetous dimorphic yeast causing pneumonia and cryptococcal meningitis. Both pathogens infect mostly immunocomprised individuals (AIDS patients, transplant patients, cancer patients, and individuals under immunosuppressive therapy) and cause diseases with high mortality rates even with aggressive current antifungal treatment. The difficulty in curing fungal infections is also in part due to the development of antifungal-drug resistance. There is urgent need to understand fungal virulence and identify new antifungal drug targets.
My laboratory uses a combination of microscopic, genetic, and molecular biology approaches to gain insights into the molecular bases of fungal virulence and differentiation, with the goal of seeking better approach for diagnosis, therapy, and prevention of fungal diseases.