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From inhibiting the activity of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase and proliferation of leukemia cells to protecting…

From inhibiting the activity of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase and proliferation of leukemia cells to protecting against breast cancer, mushrooms can do it all! Thanks Siromi Samarasinghe for the fascinating post on the chemical diversity of mushrooms!

Originally shared by Siromi Samarasinghe


The Good the Bad and the Ugly – the chemical diversity of mushrooms

The world of mushrooms is as complex as the human world. They too have their Good, the Bad and the Ugly. What makes them so? The chemical composition of the mushrooms play a big role in determining their nature.

Gourmet’s delight and Therapeutic mushrooms

✿ Shitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes, Lentinela edodes)  are widely used in East Asian cuisine. These meaty morsels are savoured by the gourmet. Many mouth watering recipes bring forth their culinary flavour.

Sun drying is reported to bring out the  umami  or savoury flavour of this mushroom.

✿ Shitake mushrooms are known to contain the compound Eritadinine which has been isolated from them and characterised.  Eritadinine is reported to lower high blood cholesterol levels.

✿ A novel protein designated as lentin, with potent antifungal activity was also isolated from Shitake mushrooms. Lentin is reported to have inhibitory effects on the activity of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase and proliferation of leukemia cells.

✿ An accumulating body of evidence suggests that consumption of dietary mushrooms can protect against breast cancer. In a study carried out in 2010, scientists tested and compared the ability of five commonly consumed mushrooms to  modulate cell number balance in the cancer process using MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. The tested mushrooms were:  maitake ( Grifola frondosa),  crimini (Agaricus bisporus), portabella (Agaricus bisporus), oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) and white button (Agaricus bisporus). The study suggests that both common and specialty mushrooms may be chemoprotective against breast cancer.

Magic mushrooms (Psychoactive mushrooms)

Intentional or accidental ingestion of these mushrooms which contain hallucinogenic components could be a tragedy to the consumer.

Psilocybin and psilocin are the principal components in ‘magic mushrooms’ which belong to the genus Psilocybe.

Psilocybin is chemically related to the amino acid tryptophan and is structurally similar to the  neurotransmitter serotonin.

Psilocybin is a member of the general class of tryptophan-based compounds that originally functioned as antioxidants in earlier life forms before assuming more complex functions in multicellular organisms, including humans.

Biosynthetically, the biochemical transformation from tryptophan to psilocybin involves several enzyme reactions.

✿ In addition to psilocybin and psilocin, studies have clarified psychoactive mushrooms to produce psychoactive agents such as ibotenic acid, and muscimol. However, the status of psychoactive mushrooms in most countries, as illegal hallucinogens, has prevented full investigation of their biochemical properties. Recent studies have shown that many psychoactive agents pass through the blood-brain barrier and act on neurotransmitter receptors.

It has also been shown that psilocybin and psilocin have high therapeutic efficiency for obsessive-compulsive disorder which is a difficult-to-treat nervous disease.  

The toxic mushrooms –  Lethal beauties,  Death caps and Destroying Angels

✿The poisonous substances in mushrooms are generally known as  

    mycotoxins since mushrooms are fungi.

✿Some of the known toxic compounds in mushrooms are :

Alpha amanitin (deadly: causes liver damage) – principal toxin in genus Amanita. (E.g. Death cap (Amanita phalloides), Destroying angel). The measure of lethality of amanitin (oral LD50 value) is approximately 0.1 mg/kg

Phallotoxin (causes gastrointestinal upset) – also found in   poisonous Amanitas

Orellanine (deadly: causes kidney failure) – principal toxin in genus Cortinarius.

Muscarine (sometimes deadly: can cause respiratory failure) – found in genus Omphalotus.

Gyromitrin (deadly: causes neurotoxicity, gastrointestinal upset, and destruction of blood cells) – principal toxin in genus Gyromitra.

Coprine (causes illness when consumed with alcohol) – principal toxin in genus Coprinus.

Ibotenic acid (causes neurotoxicity) and muscimol (hallucinogenic) – principal toxins in A. muscaria, A. pantherina, and A. gemmata.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Mushroom world continue to be a challenge to scientists, with their diverse chemical compositions, at the same time offering culinary flavours, hallucinogens and medicines to humans.

Read more:

Related post: Much information on mushrooms has been shared from time to time on Science Sunday.

Photo: Amanita muscaria

Photo credit: Buddhini Samarasinghe

(I meant to share this on Buddhini Samarasinghe ‘s birthday but got caught up on ‘birthday activities’! Better late than never!)

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Join the Conversation


  1. What’s amazing is how long science and medicine in the western world has rejected and laughed at nutritional factors in health. At long last it appears the is some productive investigation.


  2. Cassandra Royce-Sanderson I see it a little differently. I spent most of my career working for a big non-profit cancer organization. When I started in the early ’70s we referred to people who talked about nutrition and cancer as the “fruits and nuts” crowd. It’s true that we were fighting quack nutritional cancer cures at the time, but in the battle the relation between nutrition and cancer prevention got lost. It took about 20 years before we began to espouse 5-a-day servings of vegetables and fruit. We still only have general guidelines about nutrition because the research to personalize recommendations is still not done. It reminds me of science controversies here on Google+. In the fury to win the argument the big picture is obscured by all the smoke.


  3. this red cap has a twin called fly argic or something like that,one contains ?(cilecibe)? how ever its spelled .fly is deadly and the other hallucinate and they look identical and grow in the same places.mushroom poisoning takes two weeks before you get sick.then the olny thing that will save you is a liver and kidney transplant.excuse my spelling


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