Here’s something to think about the next time you wander through a damp forest or field looking for magic mushrooms: a new study has revealed that some mushrooms are carnivorous! While you ponder that, I’m going to start on my next horror movie script.
OK, the good news is, the carnivorous fungi are oyster mushrooms, not the psilocybin variety, and they pose no danger to humans eating salads or sauces. In fact, the carnivorous oyster mushrooms may help people with autoimmune diseases by shedding new light on how our bodies fight disease by destroying dangerous cells.
According to the report in the current edition of PLoS Biology, researchers from the ARC Centre for Advanced Molecular Imaging based at Monash University and Birkbeck College, London, were studying how human immune cells punch holes in cancer cells and bacteria to protect the body from infection and destruction. It turns out that plants, animals and fungi also use this technique.
That led them to study oyster mushrooms. They discovered that Pleurotus ostreatus use a protein in these hole-punching cells to kill and eat roundworms as a way of getting nitrogen. For the first time ever, they were able to observe the lethal punch of the protein pleurotolysin in action.
However, they didn’t want to just see how it works – they wanted to learn how to stop it. By regulating the hole-punching immune cells in humans – which contain the similar protein perforin – they can better control the abnormal immune responses of the bodies of people with autoimmune diseases and stop those cells from killing healthy tissues and organs.
This knowledge can also be useful in plants – which also contain these hole-punching cells – to help them kill pests on their own – like the carnivorous oyster mushrooms – and reduce our dependence on pesticides. Sounds like an excellent idea. In the meantime …
Coming soon to a theater near you: “Oysteridon the Killer Mushroom and the Attack of the Monster Roundworms!”