Researchers at South Korea’s Chungbuk National University have developed a new process to grow cordyceps – a finger-like mushroom found in high altitude pastures of the Himalayas – which increases its yield of antiviral and anticancer molecule cordycepin by several fold.
The team did so by switching the traditional growth media of brown rice that is used to rear the mushrooms in the lab with edible insects. This, the researchers said increased the mushrooms’ yield of cordycepin by as much as 100 times compared to when using traditional growth mediums.
“Our substrate of six edible insects compared to the general substrate of brown rice might be a little bit more expensive. But in terms of benefits, ours is more nutritive and beneficial,” Mi Kyeong Lee, professor at the Chungbuk National University and senior author of the study, told Happiest Health.
Cordyceps is considered to have exceptional nutritional and medical benefits. While it has been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine for centuries – earning it the name ‘Miracle Mushroom’, the discovery of its medicinal properties in recent times has sent prices skyrocketing upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh for a kg.
In India too, researchers at the Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE) have successfully cultivated these mushrooms that are rich in several high value medicinal compounds among which cordycepin is the most abundantly found.
Cordycepin is known to exhibit antioxidant, antidiabetic, anticancer, antiviral and hepatoprotective properties. Research into the compound has shown that the molecule restricts proliferation and metastasis of cancer cells when combined with other therapies.
For the study, which is published in Frontiers in Microbiology the South Korean researchers used Japanese rhinoceros beetles, crickets, silkworm pupae, mealworms, grasshoppers, white-spotted flower chafer larvae as growth mediums. Among these, the most suitable insect species for the growth of mushroom was found to be mealworm and silkworm pupae.
However, they found that growing cordyceps on Japanese rhinoceros beetles resulted in the highest yields of cordycepin.
“Cordyceps grown on edible insects contained approximately 100 times more cordycepin compared to cordyceps on brown rice,” Lee said. Feeding the mushrooms food rich in oleic acid (naturally occurring fat) increased the levels of cordycepin by 50%, the researchers found
The researchers are now working on a process to isolate pure cordycepin from the mushrooms and scaling up the manufacturing process to service demand. However, they warned that the availability of edible insects to feed the cordyceps was a challenge they needed to overcome.
“Some companies are investing to collaborate with us to make our experiments on a large scale to be able to produce cordycepin in a large amount,” Lee told Happiest Health, adding that the researchers would soon publish papers on extraction of the medicinal compound from the mushrooms itself.