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Kerala scientists identify anti-cancer properties in a fungus used for bio-control in agriculture

Cancer is a deadly disease characterised by an uncontrolled growth of cells resulting in a tumour. Scientists for many years now have tried to find methods and therapies to prevent and treat cancer. Scientists from Kerala are now trying to design treatment methods using the anti-cancer properties of a rare genius of medicinal fungus that is widely used as a pesticide in agriculture.(Read: Latest research and advances in cancer)

The Hindu reported that scientists from the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) and the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) will be working in collaboration to ascertain the anti cancer properties of the fungus.T. Santhosh Kumar, Assistant Professor, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Pilicode first reported the fungus in 2013, while conducting research managing the coconut root grub ( Leucopholis coneophora ) attacking trees in Kannur, Kozhikode, and Kasaragod districts.

This fungus belongs to the Cordyceps genus that is also known as caterpillar fungus. Initial studies confirmed that the fungus exhibits tumour suppressing properties and also inhibits the proliferation of lung cancer cells.The Hindu reported, KAU Vice Chancellor P. Rajendran saying 'We will also explore the possibility of using the species to develop nutraceuticals with immunity-enhancement, anti-aging, and anti-fatigue properties.' (Read:Can protein therapy replace chemotherapy in cancer )

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However, a major challenge faced in the research is culturing the fungus. This species of the fungus requires the grub or its larva as host. The spore of the fungus germinates within the body of the grub and then kills the host and mummifies it. The fruiting body of the fungus then emerges from the corpse. It is effective in natural control of the coconut root grub, as the fungus tunnels into the trunk and feeds on the roots. The scientists are now in search of alternative host species that enable easier multiplication of the fungus.(Read: Psorinum therapy - new cheap cancer treatment method)

This family of fungi has been used widely in oriental medicine as a rare and exotic medicinal fungus. It is known to have a broad range of pharmacological benefits on the human liver, kidneys, heart, and immune system. It was reported that some species of cordyceps fetch a price of more than Rs.5,00,000 per kg, and it would be beneficial for the farmers where the fungus has been reported. The scientists are now trying to understand the ecology and distribution of the fungus across Western Ghats.

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