Plant Cuttings

Fungus genome figured

Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sticking with fungi (Aha! The ‘Melbourne Code card’ duly played!), but a more benign side this time is this uplifting tale. In the West we are generally aware of the power of plants to provide medicines; but we tend to forget that other cultures exploit a wider range of natural medicinal sources. Take for example TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine – which makes more use of fungi than is common in, say, Europe.

Bringing that ancient system bang up to date is news that the genome of Ganoderma lucidum has been sequenced by Shilin Chen et al. Ganoderma lucidum, commonly known as reishi, has been used in TCM for more than 2000 years and has many claimed health benefits. Now that its DNA is being deciphered it is hoped that this fungus can be exploited as a model system to provide insights into the production of bioactive compounds by fungi generally. And fungi have been prized for many properties, not least of which is the aphrodisiac qualities ascribed to yarchagumba or ‘Himalayan viagra’ , the ascomycete fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis. In fact, so prized is this product – which sells for more than gold – that it is in danger of being over-collected in the wild, in high-altitude areas of the Himalayas. Coupled to the fact that it survives by infecting and mummifying the bodies of moth larvae, its fortunes are firmly tied to those of its host species, which need to be appropriately managed. And, along with suggestions that diminishing natural supplies of the ‘vegetable viagra’ may be related to climate change, it’s no wonder that this fungus is considered endangered. Maybe this is another deserving candidate for full genome analysis so its medical secrets could be given up before it’s too late?

And finally – news of the benefits of giving human medicine to plants. Apparently, just 1 mg of viagra (a compound more famously associated with erectile issues in gentlemen) is enough to make cut flowers ‘perk up’ and last for another week beyond their usual ‘shelf-life’, reports Tamara Cohen. Though why this ‘news’ item is 12 years after the original announcement of this outstanding work is a mystery in itself. Maybe it took that long for the claims to stand up to scrutiny…?
Chen, Shilin, et al. “Genome sequence of the model medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum.” Nature Communications 3 (2012): 913.