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Image of the Week: Aspergillus fumigatus

25 Jul, 2014

Painting of Aspergillus fumigatus by Peter Thwaite

The image above is an artistic impression of a microscopic view of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus, a common organism in the environment typically found in compost heaps and decaying vegetation. The green flower-like structure is the conidial head that produces thousands of spores (conidia), which can be released into the atmosphere.

It is estimated that all humans inhale at least several hundred conidia each day; typically these are quickly eliminated by the immune system in healthy individuals. However, in immunocompromised individuals, the fungus can cause severe and often fatal invasive infections, mainly arising in the lungs. Aspergillus fumigatus is also a ubiquitous aeroallergen affecting millions of susceptible adults and children. Severe asthma with fungal sensitization may affect between 3 and 13 million adults worldwide.

This image is from an original painting by the artist Peter Thwaites, a Land Agent/Chartered Surveyor by profession, based in Dorset. Peter has always used the medium of painting and drawing to record the natural world around him. He is self-taught, having been encouraged by one of the founding members of the Society of Wildlife Artists.

Peter has a love and understanding of macroscopic fungi and has produced many paintings of mushrooms and toadstools. However, much of the beauty of nature exists in microscopic form and so here, based on a series of light and electron microscopic images he was given, Peter has captured the elegance of the architecture of this fungus as a subject that is beyond the resolution of the human eye.

This painting, along with paintings of two other pathogenic fungi (Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans), was commissioned by the Medical Mycology and Fungal Immunology Consortium to promote medical mycology research and increase public understanding of the clinical importance of fungal infections. The other aims of the Consortium, led by the Aberdeen Fungal Group at the University of Aberdeen and funded by a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award, are to promote cross disciplinary research across the UK, to build capacity in the medical mycology sector and to train a new generation of scientists from countries of low- and middle- income with high endemic burdens of fungal disease.

Image credit: Peter Thwaites

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