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Natural Products

Liquid from root-like structures may make mushrooms grow

Substance produced by fungal mycelium contains novel bioactive compounds

by Alla Katsnelson, special to C&EN
September 18, 2023


Image shows two types of mushrooms. The left side shows several examples of Hypholoma lateritium, a ruddy brown mushroom with a tall stem and wide cap. The right side shows Hericium erinaceus, a pale cream-colored mushroom, gathered in a mass with vertical, string-like features.
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
Researchers studied the liquid produced by mycelium, the root-like structure of these two species of mushrooms, Hypholoma lateritium (left) and Hericium erinaceus (right). Each contains novel bioactive compounds.

We don’t generally think of mushrooms as juicy, but their growth may be fueled by a mysterious liquid secreted from their root-like structures, a new study suggests (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.3c03633). “Many people who are involved in [the] mushroom industry and mushroom science know the liquid,” says Hirokazu Kawagishi, a natural products chemist at Shizuoka University who led the work, in an email. “However, no researchers in mushroom science have paid attention to the liquid until now.”

Mushrooms growing from a wood stump or poking out from leaf litter might look like free-standing organisms, but actually they are fruiting bodies of various fungi—much like how trees and other plants produce apples or berries. Mushroom-producing fungi consist of a web of filaments called mycelium , which acts as a root system from which the mushrooms grow.

Kawagishi and his colleagues obtained liquids from lab-grown mycelium of two different fungi—Hypholoma lateritium (English common name: brick caps) and Hericium erinaceus (English common name: lion’s mane).

They extracted 4 novel compounds from the two liquids­—1 from H. lateritium and 3 from H. erinaceus—and using multiple analytical techniques, determined their composition and structure. Compounds 1, 3, and 4 induced the formation of mushrooms in a mushroom-producing fungus called Flammulina velutipes (English common name: velvet foot). The compounds also had other bioactive effects: Compounds 2 and 4 appear to inhibit a protein that regulates response to cellular stress. All four of the compounds tamped down the activity of a kinase thought to promote tumor growth.

Kawagishi believes there’s more to learn about this substance, which he and his colleagues called “fruiting liquid.” Although plant and animal hormones are well-studied, researchers know next to nothing about mushroom hormones, which Kawagashi believes regulate the mushroom life cycle. He intends to study mushrooms’ fruiting liquid further to try to find hormones there.



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