The gilled fungus featured in today’s edition of Fungi Friday not only interacts with ecosystems worldwide, but can be used for the enhancement of human health. For thousands of years fungi have been used medicinally, and although we have a diverse repertoire of fungi in our back pocket, we are likely just scratching the surface of the actual potential this Kingdom of organisms beholds. The medicinal qualities in this species were first analyzed just five decades ago, and since then, more and more medical uses have been uncovered from this unassuming forest floor inhabitant.
Agaricus subrufescens is also known as the almond mushroom, because it has an aromatic almond fragrance and taste. This gilled mushroom is found in ecotones, or transitional ecosystems, specifically in-between forest and grassland ecosystems. The mycelia of this saprotroph spread throughout the layers of dead leaves, where is releases enzymes that break down complex carbohydrates and polymers into more simple sugars extracellularly. This fungus then absorbs this nutritious slurry where it can then be allocated towards more fungal growth.
When the conditions are right and enough energy has become absorbed, chemical signaling will cause this mycelium concentrate at a specific point. Here, if compatible haploid cell merge, a dikaryotic fruiting body will emerge. Some of these mushrooms get plucked from the forest floor to become more closely analyzed. Over the past three decades, the medicinal properties of this incredible species have given rise to a wide array of uses beneficial to human health.
Agaricus subrufescens contains protein bound polysaccharides that inhibit oncogenesis, the process of normal cells turning into continuously dividing cancer cells. Not only do some of these fungal compounds reduce the number of cells that turn in to cancer, but studies focusing on human leukemia cells have found that they actually signal those cancer cells to carry out apoptosis or regulated cell death. Another study isolated fungal extracts including the compound (1–3)-b-D-glucan tested these substances against human prostate cancer cells. These fungal compounds actually proved to have anti-angiogenic properties. Angiogenesis is the allocation of nutrients and other resources from the host to the tumor cells. These compounds reduce the movement of these nutrients to cancer cells and ultimately result in the retardation of tumor growth.
In addition to all of these anti-cancer qualities Agaricus subrufescens possess, other compounds isolated from this fungus can actually protect human DNA from being damaged. These anti-genotoxic activities guard against deleterious toxins our bodies sometime absorb. Cyclophosphamide, for example is a clastogenic agent which can cause chromosomes to breakage and more mutations to occur. These anti-genotoxic activities maintain the heath of our actual genome!
Who would have thought that this marvelous forest floor inhabitant could have all of these anti-cancer and cancer suppressant qualities. In addition to all of these aforementioned properties, several studies have shown that chemical products produced by this fungus enhance the mammalian immune system, has antimicrobial activities, antiviral activities and anti-allergy effects. More than ever, it is imperative we preserve ecosystems around the world. Realize on your next hike that here are untapped fungal pharmacies beneath your feet. Compounds unknown to man that can aid our heath in a diverse number of ways.
[Link 1] -This link is a review paper and contains sources for all the claims made.