The host-pathogen struggle for nutrients

We can view an infection as a battle between the human host and the microbial invader. The outcome of which decides whether the host remains healthy or succumbs to disease. As this battle rages microbial invaders use their hosts as a source of nutrients.

However, the human body has evolved complex systems to limit access to certain essential nutrients in an attempt to starve the invading microbes and prevent disease.

We call these processes nutritional immunity. Therefore, to win the battle and cause disease microbial pathogens must have evolved strategies to thrive in a nutritionally restrictive environment within its infected host.

We are interested in exploring how the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans adapts to limitations to essential trace nutrient zinc. We have identified specific coping mechanisms that are adopted by this fungus in order to deal with nutritional immunity. In response to zinc starvation, Candida albicans dramatically changed their cell shape.

We therefore want to know how this change is regulated and what impact it has on the progression of infection with the ultimate aim to therapeutically manipulate the system and push the balance back in favour of the human host to prevent disease.

Dhara Malavia works in Dr Duncan Wilson's lab at the University of Aberdeen.