micrograph of Malassezia

Scanning electron micrograph of Malassezia sp. (credit: Janice Haney Carr, CDC)

A ubiquitous skin fungus linked to dandruff, eczema and other itchy, flaky maladies in humans has now been tracked to even further global reaches—including Hawaiian coral reefs and the extreme environments of arctic soils and deep sea vents.

A review in the scientific journal PLoS Pathogens considers the diversity, ecology and distribution of the fungi of the genus Malassezia in light of the new insights gained from screening environmental sequencing datasets from around the world.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Assistant Professor Anthony Amend discovered that members of this genus encompass a species and ecological diversity far greater than previously credited, and appear to have diversified repeatedly into and out of marine environments. Until recently, these fungi were assumed to have evolved to inhabit mammalian skin.

Anthony Amend

Anthony Amend

“We have found multiple new examples of these fungi on corals, sponges and algae, and in water samples, deep sea thermal vents and sediments from Hawaiʻi and around the world,” Amend said. “Equally as remarkable, a single strain of the noted human associate, Malassezia restricta, is found in some of the most extreme and disconnected habitats on the planet, including arctic soils and hydrothermal vents.”

Marine mammals like seals, as well as fish, lobsters, sponges, plankton and corals apparently also have that Malassezia itch. In fact, the fungus appears to dominate certain marine environments.

Emerging evidence even suggests that an interaction with warming ocean waters is linked to a reef banding disease observed at Palmyra Atoll for which a new Malassezia is implicated.

“Residence in such a broad range of habitats is exceptional and clearly ranks this dandruff-causing fungus as one of the most ecologically diverse on the planet,” Amend said. “Marine Malassezia should most certainly be the focus of future research into the diversity and distribution of this enigmatic group.”

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  1. Well, this is the answer to decades of searching and buying remedies with no results of any shred of hope.
    Therefore, I need to know, what do I do now?
    All of my life as a baby, child, teen and young adult were spent in the ocean or rivers. I am more at peace under water than on dry land. Seriously. FOR REAL.
    So I have these symptoms in unnatural areas and also was never able to get rid of the …..watchmacallitt stoff thing Laʻdat… Please email me any 411 info you may have because I would love to be normal. Mahalo nui.
    ʻO wau nō, me ka hoihoi loa!
    “Tūtū Māmā Kūhaulua

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