A parasitic fungus known to manipulate the brains of ants to make them slavelike “zombies”.
Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down, with what the authors call a “death grip” on a leaf and then die. But the story doesn’t end there.
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Mold spores are often associated with mild allergic reaction, but breathing indoor air dwelling with mold can create more dire consequences than the usual seasonal allergic reactions. Chronic disease, immune system dysfunction, neurological problems, and even death can result if house mold is taken too lightly.
Different molds come with different toxicity levels. The primary toxic fungus is produced from moisture collected on or especially inside wet porous surfaces that contain enough cellulose or organic material to feed the fungus. Examples are soft wood, drywall and other porous materials such as carpeting and ceiling tiles.
Molds can be sneaky, hiding out of view beneath outer layers of porous materials that were once wet but appear dry now.
Mold in Your Home
Toxic Black Mold, or Stachybotrys (stack-ee-BOT-ris), is very hazardous to health, especially when it dries and releases spores into the air. It is more common in areas with over 55% relative humidity. Another really dangerous mold is Chaetomium (kay-toe MEE-yum).
It doesn’t take major external or internal flooding for a toxic mold to take hold, although that’s usually a precursor to indoor mold. Minor seeping through basement walls and minor leaking from plumbing under sinks, as well as a leaky roof, are sneaky mold culprits.
Many state health agencies are aware of toxic mold’s danger. They often have regulations requiring landlords and homeowners who sell their houses to remove everything that contains mold. The tenants or buyers are usually legally in the right to break any contractual living arrangement if action is not taken.
There are licensed mold removers that can find and remove mold. If an appraiser spots potential mold while inspecting the house, a mortgage can be stalled until it’s removed. If you live in a damp or high humidity area, make sure the house you buy is mold free before you sign the dotted line.
Removing mold is often costly because sections of housing need to be removed and replaced. Intense cleaning with lots of ventilation is done between removing and re-installing dwelling sections. Rooms that require heavy cleaning with bleach and noisy ventilators have to be vacated for a few days. But no matter the cost, it’s entirely worth it to cut the string that connects you with mold exposure.
As with many threats, mold exposure can result in either minor consequences immediately or major consequences over the long term. A health hazard creates long term debilitating disease or death within a relatively short span of time. But what does ‘exposure to mold’ really mean?
Spores can infest nasal passages or be ingested with infected food items left lying around. Once they enter the body, it’s possible for them to colonize and create a widespread fungal infection. These fungal infections are difficult to remove from your body.
Besides spores becoming airborne and breathed in daily, mycotoxins are also released into the indoor air. Mycotoxins are secondary toxic metabolites produced by the fungal mold organisms. They are similar to bacteria metabolic (feeding) byproducts, which can be more toxic than the bacteria itself. Some mycotoxins are actually far more toxic than more common toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides.
Some molds may produce several different mycotoxins. So one mold can create a myriad of unhealthy symptoms. Lung and gastrointestinal tract irritations are very common. In 2010, Fisk et al published a meta-analysis showing a substantially significant association between residential dampness and mold with respiratory infections and bronchitis. Low energy, chronic fatigue, and neurological damage may also occur.
What to Do About Mold
Because the immune system is affected by spores creating fungal infections or mycotoxins, autoimmune diseases can manifest while coping with a mold infested dwelling or “sick building”.
Coping includes filtering the indoor air while remaining in the house or building. One should be more concerned with eliminating molds and potential mold sources than coping. Symptoms can be misdiagnosed as not mold related, putting one on a medical wild goose chase that can lead to worse conditions or death.
However, if you spot what you’re certain are minor mold accumulations, you can remove them with steel wool and vinegar or bleach while wearing a mask to shield you from breathing in the spores and mycotoxins.
Credit: Nina Jenkins A bed bug with Beauveria bassiana sporulating on its cadaver.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – “And don’t let the bedbugs bite” is no longer a harmless adage. In reality today, these bloodthirsty bugs infest thousands of homes. According to a team of Penn State entomologists, biopesticides — naturally occurring microorganisms — might provide an answer to this pest problem.
Bedbugs need blood meals for growth and development throughout their life cycle. Increased travel, widespread insecticide resistance and changes in management practices have caused a resurgence in those insects throughout North America and Europe. Compounding the problem are concerns about the safety of using traditional chemicals in the domestic environment.
According to Nina Jenkins, senior research associate in entomology, preliminary bioassays on the effects of Beauveria bassiana — a natural fungus that causes disease in insects — on bedbug control have been performed, and the results are encouraging. She and her colleagues report their results in the most recent issue of the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.
Jenkins, working with Alexis Barbarin, a former Penn State postgraduate student now at the University of Pennsylvania, Edwin Rajotte, professor of entomology, and Matthew Thomas, professor of entomology, looked at how B. bassiana acts through contact with its insect host.
“They are natural diseases that exist in the environment,” said Jenkins. “They are relatively easy to produce in a lab and stable, so you can use them much like chemical pesticides.”
In the study, the researchers used an airbrush sprayer to apply spore formulations to paper and cotton jersey, a common bed sheet material. Then control surfaces, again paper and cotton jersey, were sprayed with blank oil only. The surfaces were allowed to dry at room temperature overnight. Three groups of 10 bedbugs were then exposed to one of the two surfaces for one hour. Afterward, they were placed on clean filter paper in a petri dish and monitored.
The researchers found that all of the bedbugs exposed to the biopesticide became infected and died within five days.
Also, there were no prominent differences in susceptibility by feeding status, sex, strain or life stage. Most importantly, the infected bedbugs carried the biopesticide back to their hiding places, infecting those that did not go out in search of blood.
“We exposed half of a population of bedbugs to a spray residue for one hour and then allowed them to go into a harborage with unexposed individuals,” said Jenkins. “The fungal spores were transferred from the exposed bug to their unexposed companions, and we observed almost a hundred percent infection. So they don’t even need to be directly exposed, and that’s something chemicals cannot do.”
This result is important because bedbugs live in hard-to-reach places.
“Bedbugs tend to be cryptic, and they’ll hide in the tiniest crevices,” said Jenkins. “They don’t just live in your bed. They hide behind light switches and power sockets and in between the cracks of the baseboard and underneath your carpet.”
The speed of mortality with B. bassiana is as fast as Jenkins has seen in any application, but it doesn’t even need to be that fast.
“If you are trying to protect a farmer’s field, he wants the insects that are eating his crop dead immediately,” said Jenkins. “Obviously, if you have bedbugs in your house, you don’t want them there for any longer than you have to, but what you really want to know is if they’ve all gone at the end of the treatment, and I think that’s something that this technology could offer.”
Next, the researchers will test the effectiveness of brief exposure times and look at entire populations where natural harborages are established. Then they will begin field work.
“It’s exciting, and it definitely works,” said Jenkins. “We’re working on the next step, and we have more funding to support these studies.”