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← Brainwashed by a parasite

Mike O'Risal's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by Mike O'Risal

The cordycepioid fungi are among the most interesting organisms on the planet in several ways, IMO. The genus has undergone a lot of revision lately (it turned out to be several genera, some of which have been grouped systematically into entire new families!), but I believe the one mentioned in this article is still among the "true" Cordyceps, which would place it phylogenetically not too far from the genus Claviceps. The best known member of that genus, C. purpurea, is the source of LSD... which may explain a bit about how the Cordyceps sp. alters the behavior of its host.

Another clade that used to be in the genus has been split out into the genus Elaphocordyceps and they offer some intriguing evidence of relatively recent evolution (see Nikoh, N and T Fukatsu. 2000. Interkingdom Host Jumping Underground: Phylogenetic Analysis of Entomoparasitic Fungi of the Genus Cordyceps. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 17:629-638). In brief, at some point in the not-too-distant evolutionary past, several of these fungi were parasites of cicada nymphs, but their descendants made the leap to a sort of truffle that has a similar lifestyle to the insects. Interkingdom host switching is pretty rare, but molecular investigation has backed up Nikoh and Fukatsu's findings.

Lots more on these fascinating critters can be found at mycologist Joey Spatafora's excellent site, An Electronic Monograph of Cordyceps and Related Fungi.

Tue, 05 Aug 2008 17:43:00 UTC | #213171