Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Fungus Among Us

Fungus with therapeutic properties cultivated on insects

27 January 2023

Fungus Among Us

Cordyceps fungus – seen here growing out of a wasp – are getting a bit of reputation. Stories emerge from rainforests of certain species burrowing into insect brains, releasing bursts of chemicals to steer their zombified hosts to help the fungal spread. The thought of them adapting to new hosts – the premise of HBO’s The Last of Us – may have us pricing up car batteries and rucksacks, or perhaps taking up archery. But until that day comes, Cordyceps may be useful. They need to keep their hosts alive, after all, and the fungus often uses secondary metabolism to produce chemicals to keep their hosts free from disease. Researchers have found a promising way to grow Cordyceps in lab conditions – extracting one such chemical, cordycepin, which not only has antiviral properties, but may even slow down the growth of certain types of cancer.

Written by John Ankers

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