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.

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.