Mycophages: Are they ideal antifungal agents?

The recent rise in the number of fungal pathogens capable of attacking the human body is causing widespread concern. Many hypotheses confirm that this unexpected increase is directly related to environmental pollution and global warming. Fungi used to prefer to grow in temperatures below that of the human body, but global warming has forced them to mutate and adapt to higher temperatures, including that of the human body. The rise in fungal infection is accompanied by an increase in antifungal resistance, exacerbating the situation.
As human beings, one of our favorite characteristics is being curious. The discovery of bacteriophages capable of clearing bacterial infections thoroughly flooded the internet with questions on the possibility of having one for Fungi. Among the asked questions was “if there were bacteriophages like particles that attack fungus”.
Fungi. photo by drugtargetreview

The most common viruses that attack microorganisms are bacteriophages, although it doesn’t mean they attack every other cell, in fact, they simply do not attack the fungi. Let me explain based on the word “bacteriophage.” It is derived from two words, “bacteria” and “phagein” (the Greek word meaning “to eat”), this implies that these particles eat on bacteria and not any other organisms (viruses are specific, although the phenomenon of viral jumping is there,  not a single incidence has been recorded on phages). Instead, other entities like fungi have got their “phages” that attack and destroy their cells; in the case of fungi, they are called mycoviruses (mycophages).

What are mycoviruses?

Mycoviruses infect fungi; they affect all significant taxa of fungi and are transmitted intracellularly during cell division, sporogenesis, and/or cell-to-cell fusion (hyphal anastomosis). These particles lack extracellular activities due to the exclusivity of their transmission mode (horizontal transmission). Many of the mycoviruses act in a “lysogenic way,” although some have been identified to reduce the virulence of the phytopathogenic fungal hosts. Some studies suggested the possibility of these viruses attacking healthy hosts.

Can mycoviruses be used to treat fungal infections?

The research on mycoviruses for treatment is still naive, although scientists have been interested in those that reduce the virulence of their phytopathogenic fungal hosts. Like the one done by van de Sande et al. (2019), several studies discussed the possibility of using mycoviruses to treat pulmonary aspergillosis. This might help us to deal with fungal infections with minimal side effects.

Do we really need an alternative to antifungal drugs?

The first reason is the emergence of resistant bugs; this happens to all microbes that encounter a particular chemical(s) and survive it. Resistance has been commonly referred to as bacterial resistance due to its commonality in disease incidences. The second reason for an alternative antifungal could be side effects. Side effects caused by antifungal drugs are rare but dangerous, including but not limited to heart and liver failure. Antifungal medications are accompanied by many contraindications, especially for people with some conditions (There is an interesting article from the University of Michigan explaining antifungal pills).

Other possible applications of mycoviruses

  • Cyanophages/phycophages are particularly useful in controlling blooms produced by various genera of algae and cyanobacteria. 
  • Some scientists have tried to use mycoviruses to stop food spoilage, especially in cereals. 
  • They are widely used in studying viral expression within the host cell
  • Decontaminating surfaces
NB: Most of the applications are still in the experimental stages

Differences between Bacteriophages and Mycophages (mycoviruses)



They infect bacteria They infect Fungus
They are both lysogenic and lytic They are lysogenic
They involve attachment as the mode of initiating infection They majorly depend on host cell division and reproduction mode
It May have RNA or DNA, single or double-stranded Most fungal viruses belong to double-stranded RNA viruses; 30% belong to positive-strand RNA viruses and Negative-strand RNA viruses.

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Last modified: May 23, 2022