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  • Cordyceps

  • Area: Shangri-La,Tibet,Sichuan,Qinghai
  • Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 400 described species. All Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, mainly on insects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi. The best known species of the genus is Cordyceps sinensis,first recorded as yartsa gunbu in Tibet in the 15th Century. It is known as yarsha gumba in Nepal. The Latin etymology describes cord as club, ceps as head, and sinensis as Chinese. Cordyceps sinensis, known in English commonly as caterpillar fungus, is considered a medicinal mushroom in oriental medicines, such as Traditional Chinese medicines and Traditional Tibetan medicine.

Variation and Growth

When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruiting body (ascocarp) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The ascocarp bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia contain the asci. These in turn contain the thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective.

Some Cordyceps species are able to affect the behavior of their insect host: Cordyceps unilateralis causes ants to climb a plant and attach there before they die. This ensures the parasite's environment is at an optimal temperature and humidity and maximal distribution of the spores from the fruiting body that sprouts out of the dead insect is achieved. Marks have been found on fossilised leaves which suggest this ability to modify the host's behaviour evolved more than 48 million years ago.

The genus has a worldwide distribution and most of the approximately 400 species have been described from Asia (notably Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand). Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests.

The genus has many anamorphs (asexual states), of which Beauveria (possibly including Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium, and Isaria) are the better known, since these have been used in biological control of insect pests.

Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties,like cordycepin; the anamorph of Cordyceps subsessilis (Tolypocladium inflatum) was the source of ciclosporin—a drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it suppresses the immune system (Immunosuppressive drug).

Medicinal importance

The Cordyceps mushrooms have a long history as medicinal fungi. In traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps have been used to treat several conditions including cancers for thousand of years. Extracts from both mycelium and fruiting bodies of C. sinensis, C. militaris and other Cordyceps species showed significant anticancer activities by various mechanisms such as, modulating immune system and inducing cell apoptosis. Some polysaccharide components and cordycepin (3'-deoxyadenosine) have been isolated from C. sinensis and C. militaris, which acted as potent anticancer components.

Some work has been published in which Cordyceps sinensis has been used to protect the bone marrow and digestive systems of mice from whole body irradiation. An experiment noted Cordyceps sinensis may protect the liver from damage.An experiment with mice noted the mushroom may have an anti-depressant effect.Researchers have noted that Cordyceps has a hypoglycemic effect and may be beneficial for people with insulin resistance