Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 400 identified species and many yet to be described. All Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, mainly on insects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi. Until recently, the best known species of the genus was Cordyceps sinensis, first recorded as yartsa gunbu in Tibet in the 15th century and known as yarsha gumba in Nepalese and "caterpillar fungus" in English. In 2007, nuclear DNA sampling revealed this species to be unrelated to most of the rest of the genus' members; as a result it was renamed Ophiocordyceps sinensis and placed in a new family, the Ophiocordycipitaceae.
The generic name Cordyceps is derived from the Latin words cord, meaning "club", and ceps, meaning "head". Several species of Cordyceps are considered to be medicinal mushrooms in classical Asian pharmacologies, such as that of traditional Chinese[unreliable source?] and Tibetan medicines.
When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruiting body (ascocarp) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The ascocarp bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia containing asci. These, in turn, contain thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective.
Some current and former Cordyceps species are able to affect the behaviour of their insect host: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (formerly Cordyceps unilateralis) causes ants to climb a plant and attach there before they die. This ensures the parasite's environment is at an optimal temperature and humidity, and that maximal distribution of the spores from the fruiting body that sprouts out of the dead insect is achieved. Marks have been found on fossilised leaves that suggest this ability to modify the host's behaviour evolved more than 48 million years ago.
The genus has a worldwide distribution and most of the approximately 400 species have been described from Asia (notably Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand). Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests.
Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties, like cordycepin; the anamorph of Cordyceps subsessilis (Tolypocladium inflatum) was the source of ciclosporin—a drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it suppresses the immune system (Immunosuppressive drug).
The Cordyceps mushrooms have a long history as medicinal fungi. The earliest clear record is a Tibetan medical text authored by Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje in the 15th Century outlining the tonic propensities of Yartsa gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis renamed now to Ophiocordyceps sinensis), especially as an aphrodisiac. Although there are often-repeated claims of thousands of years of use in traditional Chinese medicine, so far no clear textual source has surfaced.
Although in vitro and animal models provide preliminary support for some of the traditional medicinal uses, there are no clinical studies demonstrating health benefits in humans. Some polysaccharide components and cordycepin, which have some anticancer activity in preliminary in vitro and animal studies, have been isolated from C. sinensis and C. militaris. Some work has been published in which Cordyceps sinensis has been used to protect the bone marrow and digestive systems of mice from whole body irradiation. An experiment noted a chemical compound isolated from Cordyceps sinensis may protect the liver from damage. An experiment with mice noted that Cordyceps sinensis may have an anti-depressant effect. Researchers have noted that a polysaccharide isolated from Cordyceps sinensis has a hypoglycemic effect and may be beneficial for people with insulin resistance.
Ma Junren case
Ma Junren, the coach of a group of female Chinese athletes who broke five world records in distance running in 1993 at the National Games in Beijing, China, told reporters that the runners were taking Cordyceps, and turtle blood at his request. The number of new world records being set at a single track event caused much attention and suspicion of drug use, and the records are still widely regarded as dubious, as the athletes failed to match these performances outside of China at independently drug tested events where illicit substances other than cordyceps would be detected.
According to Daniel Winkler, the price of Cordyceps sinensis has risen dramatically on the Tibetan Plateau, basically 900% between 1998 and 2008, an annual average of over 20%. However, the value of big-sized caterpillar fungus has increased more dramatically than smaller size Cordyceps, regarded as lower quality.
|Year||% Price increase||Price/kg (Yuan)|
|1997||467% (incl. inflation)||8,400|
|2004||429% (incl. inflation)||36,000|
Cordyceps being weighed in at a market in China.
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- Vietnamese Ministry of Health: The first time in Vietnam, Prof.Aca.D.Sc Dai Duy Ban with his scientists discovered Cordyceps Sinensis as Isaria cerambycidae N.SP. and Fermentation Đông Trùng Hạ Thảo BVM-VN by Công ty TNHH Daibio in Vietnam
- An Electronic Monograph of Cordyceps and Related Fungi
- Cordyceps sinensis in Tibet