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  • Writer's pictureVedant Parikh

Lab Notes on: Mycobiotechnology

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Gabrielle Alli's notes on mycobiotechnology, a field of fungi.

 

Technology is not only limited to high-speed computers and artificial intelligence. Rather, some of the most intricate technology is derived from the natural world. The use of living things to create a product or solve a problem for the benefit of humankind is known as biotechnology. It is often multidisciplinary, using findings from different fields for innovation. In recent years, there has been an increase in studies investigating the versatility of fungi, the subject of mycology. Combining biotechnology and mycology has created a new scientific exploration known as mycobiotechnology.


One type of biotechnology, bioremediation, utilizes living things to clean up toxic spills. These organisms are usually bacteria or fungi. Research within this field has noted the capabilities of white rot fungi, which has been shown to speed up metabolic reactions for a number of environmental pollutants. This is due to white rot fungi’s secretion of enzymes known as peroxidases. Aside from releasing enzymes, other fungi may utilize their mycelium to degrade waste. The mushrooms uptake the pollutant through their version of a roots system to clear a surrounding area.


Psychedelic mushrooms were introduced to the West following amateur mycologist R Gordon Wasson’s 1955 trip to Mexico. He participated in a Mazatec ritual led by Maria Sabina, a spiritual leader of the local indigenous people, in which mushrooms were consumed to have a mind-altering experience. Upon bringing some back to the US, Wasson offered samples to a doctor who isolated the active psychedelic ingredient, psilocybin.

Mycobiotechnology has also found its place in pharmaceuticals. Penicillin, an early antibiotic discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, originally came from the fungus Penicillium rubens. This was a huge contribution that would forever change the medicine field, affecting how various infections are treated today. Now, modern researchers in New Zealand believe that other locally available fungi may have the potential to address other microbial threats. An initial study led by Dr. Siouxsie Wiles observed the effects of compounds isolated from organic extracts of the fungi Neofusicoccum australe on MRSA bacteria. One of these extracts was shown to have moderate antibiotic activity with little evidence of toxicity, which influenced further research with more mushrooms and more bacteria. Fungi for this follow-up study was sourced from Aotearoa, an area noted for its unique animal and plant life. This time, Dr. Wiles’ lab tested the efficacy of these extracts against Mycobacterium. 35 out of 36 fungi tested had some form of antibacterial activity. These will be further studied to determine the chemistry of compounds causing this property.


More radical pharmaceutical research aims to address mental conditions through the use of psilocybin. Psilocybin is the psychedelic compound found within some types of mushrooms. One study observed the effects of a low, placebo-like dose vs. a high dose in cancer patients with chronic anxiety and depression. Overall, 80% of patients receiving a high dose experienced decreases in their negative moods and noted improvements in life outlook after a six-month follow-up period. Another study applied the use of psilocybin in nine patients with moderate to severe OCD. Participants received three escalating doses in addition to one randomly inserted low, placebo-like dose, each dose administered at least a week apart. Data was limited to the small sample size; however, many showed signs of symptomatic relief for at least a week.


Bioremediation and pharmaceuticals are only two examples of the capabilities of fungi, a hardy kingdom that has survived centuries of natural disasters. These and other unique properties divulged within mycobiotechnology will remain useful as scientists further consider their applications to bettering life as we know it.

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