According to new research, volatile compounds released by bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa can trigger the growth of a fungal pathogen often found in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. This is the first time a study shows that a pathogen can send a signal through the air, acting as a direct fuel for another pathogen’s growth.

Both the P. aeruginosa bacteria and the Aspergillus fumigatus fungus are opportunistic pathogens, commonly found in the same region in the lungs’ microbiota. It has been shown that the bacteria can produce compounds that inhibit the growth of fungi, and since microbes tend to produce volatile compounds that can be airborne, researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris’ Aspergillus unit wondered if these two pathogens would also communicate through volatile signals.

“To our big surprise, volatiles produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa were promoting the growth of the Aspergillus fumigatus fungus,” Latgé said in an ASM press release. “Even more surprising, we found that these volatiles were actually taken up by the fungus to support growth.”