New York: A ubiquitous skin fungus linked to dandruff, eczema and other itchy, flaky maladies in humans has now been tracked to Hawaiian coral reefs and the extreme environments of arctic soils and deep sea vents.
"We have found multiple new examples of fungi of the genus Malassezia on corals, sponges and algae and in water samples, deep sea thermal vents and sediments from Hawaii and around the world," said Anthony Amend of University of Hawaii at Manoa.
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.
"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," he added.
Amend discovered that members of this genus cover a species and ecological diversity far greater than earlier thought and appear to have diversified repeatedly into and out of marine environments.
Till recently, these fungi were thought to have evolved to inhabit mammalian skin.
Evidence 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.
Marine Malassezia should be the focus of future research into the diversity and distribution of this enigmatic group, Amend concluded.
The study appeared in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens.