Published: January 30th, 2008
Revised: August 4th, 2009
The dermatophytes are among the most frequently observed organisms in biomedicine, yet there has never been stability in the taxonomy, identification and naming of the approximately 25 pathogenic species involved. Since the identification of these species is often epidemiologically and ethically important, the difficulties in dermatophyte identification are a fruitful topic for modern molecular biological investigation, done in tandem with renewed investigation of phenotypic characters. Molecular phylogenetic analyses such as multilocus sequence typing have had to be tailored to accommodate differing the mechanisms of speciation that have produced the dermatophytes that are commonly seen today. Even so, some biotypes that were unambiguously considered species in the past, based on profound differences in morphology and pattern of infection, appear consistently not to be distinct species in modern molecular analyses. Most notable among these are the cosmopolitan bane of nails and feet, Trichophyton rubrum, and the endemic African agent of childhood tinea capitis, Trichophyton soudanense, which are effectively inseparable in all analyses. The molecular data require some reinterpretation of results seen in conventional phenotypic tests, but in most cases, phylogenetic insight is readily integrated with current laboratory testing procedures.