Researchers from P&G, the Institute of Medical Biology, and Bioinformatics Institute were led by the Genome Institute of Singapore in identifying treatments for seborrheic dermatitis, eczema and dandruff, all of which can be caused by Malassezia.
Malassezia is a type of yeast found on the skin and is particularly prominent in Singapore and Southeast Asia as the humid climate provides a perfect environment for fungi to thrive.
Two species of the genus; M. restricta and M. globosa are also present on the scalp and are responsible for common dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.
These were first discovered as a link to dandruff and their genomes fully sequenced by Dr Thomas Dawson and his team at P&G in 2007, which also developed subsequent hair care technologies to target them.
However, much remained unknown about Malassezia in 2015 which prompted the personal care player to carry further research under the guidance of .
Restoring the skin to a healthy state
In a study, published in the November issue of PLOS Genetics, these researchers identified hundreds of features explaining how the fungus may be able to thrive on human skin by sequencing the genomes of all known Malassezia, (including multiple strains of those most common).
According to the team, a gene unique to Malassezia and in no other related fungi was also found which is potentially the one which first allowed Malassezia to switch from living only on plants to being able to live on animals, birds and humans.
The dependence of these species on lipids for survival was also established, and the idea that they are sexually active remains supported.
Targeting this gene lays the groundwork for eliminating Malassezia on human skin, or weaken its growth and survival significantly.
Discovery benefits skin care developments in Southeast Asia the most
Singapore has the highest reported incidence of fungal-mediated skin disease in the world, with about one in five people suffering from atopic dermatitis, or eczema.
Thus, therapeutics and further research addressing Malassezia would therefore have widespread applications in this region.
"This study helps us understand how a microscopic organism that lives on the skin can give rise to a common disease like eczema that affects one in every five Singaporeans, as well as to serious conditions like skin cancer," says Dr Benjamin Seet, Executive Director of A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council.
"Our partnership with P&G opens doors to important research that will benefit patients suffering from these conditions in Singapore, and which will otherwise not be conducted here," adds Dr Seet.
In particular, a database with the sequenced Malassezia genomes has been made public, allowing researchers worldwide to learn more about what was previously considered 'dark matter' on the skin.
Citation: Wu G, Zhao H, Li C, Rajapakse MP, Wong WC, Xu J, et al. (2015) Genus-Wide Comparative Genomics of Malassezia Delineates Its Phylogeny, Physiology, and Niche Adaptation on Human Skin. PLoS Genet 11(11): e1005614. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005614