Scientists Work Out How To Grow Zombie Mushrooms In A Lab — It Could Help Unlock New Virus-Fighting, Anti-Cancer Drugs

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A team of scientists from Korea and Egypt have discovered a better way to grow insectivorous mushrooms in a lab, according to a study published Wednesday frontiers in microbiology, a breakthrough that could pave the way for research into a new range of cancer and virus-fighting treatments.

Important facts

search suggestions Cordyceps Mushrooms, particularly a chemical compound found in the fungus called cordycepin, have many possible health benefits — including potential antiviral and anti-cancer properties — although their rarity in the wild and the difficulties in cultivating them make them difficult to produce on a large scale and to test.

The mushrooms can be grown on grains like brown rice, but they don’t produce much cordycepin, leading researchers to suggest insects as a better alternative, which are a richer source of protein and the fungal target in nature.

Tests on a variety of edible insects, including mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers, have shown this to be the case, and study author Dr. Mi Kyeong Lee said Cordyceps Grown on edible insects “contained about 100 times more cordycepin compared” to mushrooms grown on brown rice.

Although cordycepin levels varied depending on the insect eating the mushrooms, the researchers found that fat, not protein, was the key factor.

Lee hopes the study results will allow cordycepin to be manufactured “more effectively and economically,” although she noted that stocks of edible insects are not yet sufficient to scale it up Cordyceps Industrial level production.

key background

A large number of mushrooms – hundreds of species – are grouped under the Cordyceps Umbrella. They excel at infecting insects, spreading and growing within their host’s body before eventually killing them. Some species have become famous for their ability to turn unknowing hosts into zombies, taking control of their bodies and manipulating their behavior to infect others. The mushrooms are eaten in parts of Asia and some species are valuable ingredients in traditional medicine for many diseases. More recently, mushrooms have gained traction in the West as dietary supplements, although like many alternative therapies, there is a lack of solid scientific evidence that they work as claimed.

Surprising fact

Cordycepin belongs to a class of antiviral chemicals, and some evidence suggests it may have antiviral properties. Recent research highlights its potential as a Covid-19 therapy, Lee said. The results strongly warrant preclinical and clinical studies to rate it as a “comprehensive treatment,” Lee added.


Popular culture has usurped the ability Cordyceps to take control of its hosts. The mushrooms serve as inspiration for zombie monsters in the last of us Game franchise that HBO is developing into a TV series. It also inspires zombies in the book The girl with all the presents.

Further consideration

Further reading

How to Tame a Zombie Mushroom (Atlantic)

After this fungus turns ants into zombies, their bodies explode (NYT)

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