Scientists found an interaction between two anti-cancer compounds in the fungus Cordyceps militaris.
Chinese scientists have found evidence that a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine, widely sought by the public for its healing powers, also carries anti-cancer benefits.
The scientists found there was an interaction between two anti-cancer compounds in the fungus Cordyceps militaris.
The first, cordycepin, was noted in Cordyceps militaris in 1950, but how it interacted remained unknown. The second, pentostatin, was first identified from a bacterium and was developed as a commercial drug to treat leukemia and other cancers in the 1990s.
Their research found that biosynthesis of cordycepin is coupled with pentostatin production by a single gene cluster.
"For the first time, we decoded the biosynthesis mechanism of cordycepin in the fungus, and during the research we unexpectedly discovered pentostatin," said Wang Chengshu, head of the research team at the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, a branch of the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"These two compounds coexist in fungal cells in the form of a protector and protege - cordycepin is synthesized with the coupled production of pentostatin to protect the stability of the former," he said.
Their research also showed that the fungus initiates a detoxification process when the cordycepin in the body reaches an excessively high level, which can be toxic.
"It reminds us that excessive intake of the fungus may not be healthy," Wang said.
A paper about the team's findings after nearly eight years of research was published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology.
Cordyceps militaris, bright orange-yellow mushrooms are sold as a fresh supplement for soups and stews, is a much more affordable alternative to caterpillar fungus.
"However, in the research, we have proved that neither of the compounds is produced in caterpillar fungus," Wang said.
Cordyceps fungi are popular in China for their widely believed immunity-enhancing and energy-strengthening properties. Their uses in medical treatment date to the Compendium of Materia Medica, a book widely deemed the encyclopedia of traditional Chinese medicine written in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Source: China Daily, Xinhua
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