The wonder of the mushroom continues to amaze us all. Fungi are used in innumerable ways from environmental remediation to insulation, from natural packaging to plastic alternatives, from home décor to furniture; their applications are endless. Whereas mushrooms are revered for their distinctive gastronomic flavor it is their health benefit that attracts the most attention. Medical discoveries using mycelium, mushrooms and/or their extracts have been exciting with promising results in such fields as cancer research, neurodegenerative diseases, PTSD, and a host of other illnesses and disorders.
Mushrooms are fruiting bodies produced by mycelium, an
interconnected mass of fine threads (called hyphae) that are invisible to the naked eye. Mycelium is hidden deep inside its food source and can stretch underground for miles covering large geographic areas. In many instances it attaches itself to roots providing nutrients and water to plants while receiving manufactured sugars in return. It appears that information regarding a plant’s health, change in environmental conditions or threat to the organism can be detected by mycelium inciting a response such as increasing nutrient distribution to the affected area or producing antibacterial enzymes to protect it.
The secretion of these antibacterial enzymes has intrigued the
scientific and medical community for some time. Experiments using mycelium from a variety of mushrooms have shown that when threatened by an antigen it will release an inhibitive substance (metabolites) to protect itself. Producing these metabolites gives the fungus an advantage over the “attacking” bacteria by suppressing its growth and in some cases completely absorbing it. These antipathogenic properties developed as a survival mechanism by mushrooms are the premise for current research on developing a custom antibody for humans.
Microbiologist and Mycologist Tradd Cotter describes in his book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation his procedure for extracting metabolites manufactured by artificially grown mycelium. Cotter introduces a contaminant (E. coli in one case) to growing mycelium (Tinder fungus) and suctions out the metabolite-rich fluid that collects on the side of the bag as a result. In this case, the metabolite was specific to E. coli suggesting that with further research, an antibody could be manufactured for a specific antigen.
As Cotter states in his book, “this process can create novel chemical cocktails specific to an individual’s needs, be it an anticancer compound or an antibiotic for a rare infection”1 (Cotter, 207). Imagine treating an infection with an antibody custom manufactured using the bacteria or virus from your own body. This could revolutionize medical treatment/practices by replacing mass-produced antibiotics for instance with one made specifically for an individual’s bacterial strain. Customizing medicine to one’s illness or disorder appears to be a more efficient method of treatment and one that may not be too far in the future. All this thanks to the amazing mushroom.
1 Cotter, Tradd. Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation.
Sources: www.mushroommountain.com, Cotter, Tradd. Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, News Medical, Life Sciences & Medicine, Halpern, George. Healing Mushrooms, www.BBC.com Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus.