Life Lines

Caterpillars with fungus growing out of their heads. Image of Cordyceps sinensis fungus from http://cordyceps-sinensis-mushroom.blogspot.com/

Whoever thought that a brain-attacking fungus might actually be good for you? This particular type of fungus, cordyceps, is known for attacking and killing caterpillars and can be found in the mountains of Tibet. Touted as a cure for various ailments including cancer, asthma, and erectile dysfunction, it is sold in Chinese markets as the “golden worm” or “Tibetan mushroom” for as much as $50,000 per pound! A new study published in RNA provides some evidence for these claims. The researchers isolated the chemical cordycepin from the fungus and found that it actually does have anti-inflammatory properties and works by halting polyadenylation, which shuts off genes that induce inflammation. The hope is to develop new anti-inflammatory treatments for asthma, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammation-associated diseases. Cordycepin is not currently available as a medication as more tests are needed and doctors caution about self-medicating with the fungus.

Sources:

National Geographic Daily News

Kondrashov A, Meijer HA, Barthet-Barateig A, Parker HN, Khurshid A, Tessier S, Sicard M, Knox AJ, Pang L, and de Moor CH. Inhibition of polyadenylation reduces inflammatory gene induction. RNA. published online Nov. 1, 2012. doi: 10.1261/rna.032391.112

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