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Medical Research

A New Use for Mushrooms?

A couple of poisonous mushrooms may show scientists how to attack deadly diseases.

Scientists at Michigan State University have discovered an enzyme, which they have called POPB, that’s key to the potency of poisonous mushrooms. They found that the enzyme helps manufacture chemical compounds known as cyclic peptides, which are often used to create new drugs. The findings, the researchers said, could lead to medicines that have no side effects, according to Jonathan Walton, professor of plant biology and co-lead author.

“Mushrooms are prolific chemical factories, yet only a few of their peptides are poisonous,” he said. “These toxins survive the high temperatures of cooking and the acids of digestion, and yet they’re readily absorbed by the bloodstream and go directly to their intended target. These are the exact qualities needed for an effective medicine.”

The researchers worked with the mushroom species Amanita, disassembling one of its poisonous peptides. The resultant peptide, according to researchers, can be compared to a laser-guided missile with a nuclear warhead that has a precise delivery, as opposed to the “shotgun” approach of other medicines.

The study was published in the journal Chemistry & Biology.

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