Follow for more talkers

Mushroom that grows on insects could help treat cancer and viruses

Until now, the mushroom has been best known for its gruesome eating habits.

Avatar photo


Woman holding raw japanese mushroom shimeji. Food ingredient. female hands. traditional ingredients concept.
(Pedal to the Stock via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

A mushroom that grows on insects could help treat cancer and viruses, according to new research.

Scientists say the cordyceps fungus contains a compound called cordycepin that could be used in new cancer drugs and antiviral medicines.

The compound has been difficult to grow in a lab but a new method, where the mushroom feeds on insects instead of brown rice, enables it to produce 100 times more of the compound.

Growing more of the compound will give researchers more opportunities to study it, in turn helping them find new medicines for devastating illnesses.

Until now, the mushroom has been best known for its gruesome eating habits.

Its spores infect and kill insects before growing into fruiting bodies that sprout from the insect's flesh.

Cordycepin is also an antimetabolite that can stop cancer cells multiplying and spreading to other parts of the body.

Recent studies have also suggested the compound could be used to treat coronavirus.

The mushroom is usually grown in a lab on grains such as brown rice.

However, the researchers noticed that levels of the cancer-busting compound were very low when it was collected from mushrooms grown on grains.

They suspected the protein content of the grains simply wasn’t high enough to feed the mushroom.

Given what the team knew about the compound’s potential, they were keen to find another way of growing healthy mushrooms in the lab and using large volumes of the compound in medical research.

For the study, the South Korean team cultivated cordyceps mushrooms and fed them insects for two months before harvesting them.

The mushrooms were given crickets, silkworm pupae, mealworms, grasshoppers, white-spotted flower chafer grubs and Japanese rhinoceros beetles.

The mushrooms grew biggest on mealworms and silkworm pupae, which are eaten in parts of South Korea as a snack.

They grew least well on grasshoppers and chafer larvae, which are a type of scarab beetle.

However, the mushrooms that grew tallest did not produce the largest amounts of cordycepin.

In fact, the mushrooms grown on Japanese rhinoceros beetles didn’t grow as big but produced 34 times more cordycepin than silkworm pupae, which produced the least.

The team found the crucial ingredient for cordycepin production was the fat, not protein, content of the insect.

High levels of oleic acid may be needed for the compound to be produced.

Adding the acid to a low-performing insect food caused the amount of the compound produced to grow by 50 pe cent.

Study author Professor Mi Kyeong Lee from Chungbuk National University said: “Our research convincingly shows that a potential strategy for boosting cordycepin production in the growth of cordyceps would be to use insects with high oleic acid content,

“The cultivation method of cordyceps suggested in this study will enable the production of cordycepin more effectively and economically.

“However, securing edible insects is not yet sufficient for scale-up to industrial level.

“It is also thought that more efficient production may be possible through the use of other insects, which needs to be demonstrated by further study.”

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email [email protected] or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers