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'My dishwasher is trying to kill me'

New research finds harmful fungal pathogens living in dishwasher seals

A potentially pathogenic fungus has found a home living in extreme conditions in some of the most common household appliances, researchers have found.

A new paper published in the British Mycological Society journal, Fungal Biology, published by Elsevier, shows that these sites make perfect habitats for extremotolerant fungi (which includes black yeasts). Some of these are potentially dangerous to human health.

Modern living comes with an increasing need for electrical household equipment such as dishwashers, washing machines and coffee machines. A characteristic of these appliances is a moist and hot environment. In the case of dishwashers, high temperatures between 60º to 80ºC are intermittently produced and aggressive detergents and high concentrations of salt are used in each washing cycle.

The article focuses on the occurrence of potentially pathogenic fungal flora located in dishwashers, over a sample of private homes from 101 cities on 6 continents. 62% of the dishwashers contained fungi on the rubber band in door, 56% of which accommodated the polyextremotolerant black yeasts Exophiala dermatitidis and E. phaeomuriformis. Both Exophiala species showed remarkable tolerance to heat, high salt concentrations, aggressive detergents, and to both acid and alkaline water. This is a combination of extreme properties not previously observed in fungi.

Exophiala dermatitidis is rarely isolated from nature, but is frequently encountered as an agent of human disease, both in compromised and healthy people. It is also known to be involved in pulmonary colonization of patients with cystic fibrosis, and also occasionally causes fatal infections in healthy humans. The invasion of black yeasts into our homes represents a potential health risk.

The discovery of this widespread presence of extremophilic fungi in some of our common household appliances suggests that these organisms have embarked on an extraordinary evolutionary process that could pose a significant risk to human health in the future.

The article, "Dishwashers – A man-made ecological niche accommodating human opportunistic fungal pathogens" by P. Zalar, M. Novak, G.S. de Hoog and N. Gunde-Cimerman appears in the journal, Fungal Biology (doi:10.1016/j.funbio.2011.04.007).

Notes for Editors

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Journalists wishing to interview the author may contact Nina Gunde-Cimerman, at

Full article citation: P. Zalar, M. Novak, G.S. de Hoog, N. Gunde-Cimerman, Dishwashers - A man-made ecological niche accommodating human opportunistic fungal pathogens, Fungal Biology, In Press, Corrected Proof, ISSN 1878-6146, DOI: 10.1016/j.funbio.2011.04.007.

About Fungal Biology

Fungal Biology ( is a journal of British Mycological Society. Fungal Biology is the international research journal of the British Mycological Society. Fungal Biology publishes original contributions in all fields of basic and applied research involving fungi and fungus-like organisms (including filamentous fungi, yeasts, lichen fungi, oomycetes, and slime moulds). These fields include biochemistry, biodeterioration, biotechnology, cell biology, developmental biology, disease control, ecology, environment, evolution, fungal physiology, genetics, genomics, geomycology, insect pathology, medical mycology, molecular genetics, mutualistic interactions, physiology, plant pathology, secondary metabolites, taxonomy and systematics, and techniques.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier's online solutions include SciVerse ScienceDirect, SciVerse Scopus, Reaxys, MD Consult and Nursing Consult, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite and MEDai's Pinpoint Review, which help research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world-leading publisher and information provider, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Fin Galligan | EurekAlert!
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