How an insect-eating mushroom could produce new antiviral and cancer drugs

How an insect-eating mushroom could produce new antiviral and cancer drugs

  • Researchers grew cordyceps mushrooms on six different kinds of insects.

  • They found that mushrooms grown amid high levels of oleic fatty acid contained the most cordycepin, a potential therapeutic agent with antiviral and anticancer properties.

  • They say that growing cordyceps on mushrooms could potentially reduce production costs and facilitate their entrance into clinical trials.

Preliminary studies show that cordyceps mushrooms may benefit health via anti-inflammatoryTrusted Source, antibacterial, and antifatigue activity.

Cordycepin is a key compound of the mushrooms and has been linked to potential anticancerTrusted Source effects.

Cordyceps mushrooms are typically collected in the wild and are difficult to find in large quantities. When grown in lab conditions, they are typically grown off of grains.

Methods to increase cordyceps production and reduce production costs could enable cordyceps to enter clinical trials for various conditions.

In the wild, insects are a direct source of nutrients for cordyceps. In a recent study, researchers observed cordyceps growth on six different insects.

They found that although cordyceps grew largest on mealworms and silkworm pupae, they produced the highest levels of cordycepin on rhinoceros beetles.

“The cultivation method of Cordyceps suggested in this study will enable the production of cordycepin more effectively and economically,” lead author Mi Kyeong Lee, Ph.D., of the College of Pharmacy at Chungbuk National University, South Korea, said in a news release.

“However, securing edible insects is not yet sufficient for scale-up to an 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 study was published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

Growing mushroom-eating insects

For the study, the researchers observed cordyceps growth on six insects:

  • crickets
  • silkworm pupae
  • mealworms
  • grasshoppers
  • white-spotted chafer larvae
  • Japenese rhinoceros beetles

While cordyceps grew on all six insects, the growth and shape of the resulting mushrooms differed among them.

After 35 days of growth, the researchers noted that mushrooms grew largest on silkworm pupae and mealworms, followed by Japanese rhinoceros beetle and crickets, and lastly, white-spotted chafer larvae and grasshoppers.

However, they noted that cordyceps size did not necessarily correlate with cordycepin content.

Cordycepin content was highest among cordyceps grown on Japanese rhinoceros beetles. Mushrooms grown on these beetles had 34 times more cordycepin than those from silkworm pupae.

Upon further study, the researchers found that different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates correlated with different characteristics of growth. Specifically, higher fat contents correlated with the highest contents of cordycepin.

This finding, they wrote, matches previous research showing that vegetable oils increase cordycepin synthesis by activating genes linked to the cordycepin biosynthesis pathway.

They then investigated whether certain kinds of fats may influence growth. In doing so, they noted that a higher oleic acid content was linked to more cordycepin output.

While Japanese rhinoceros beetles had an oleic fatty acid content of 10.8%, silkworm pupae had an oleic acid content of just 0.4%.