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Fungi that save lives: 3 fungi cultivated by multinational pharmaceutical companies

Insulin, which is essential for certain types of diabetics, medicines taken not to reject a transplanted organ, cholesterol reducers ... Do you know that these medications and many others come from fungi cultivation?




Yes, these and other molecules fundamental for people's health come from growing fungi originally collected in nature. To do this, they isolate the fungi and start growing it in bioreactors, which are nothing else but sterile tanks filled with water and adequate food for the species to grow. Men give them food and the mushrooms give us many molecules useful for our health, which are processed later, purified and sold in capsules, tablets, injections, etc.

This is the day-to-day in many medicine factories. In some cases the medicinal fungus is grown as it was collected and isolated, just like the anamorph of the fungus Cordiceps subsessilis used to produce Ciclosporin A. This fungus is found in nature parasitizing wood boring beetles and curiously produces this molecule indispensable for patients who have had a transplant not to reject the transplanted organ.

In other cases, a fungus from nature is forced to mutate in the lab in order to generate a higher amount of active substance, as in the case of penicillin. Thus, the fungus Penicillium notatum accidentally discovered by Pasteur in 1941 remains a source of penicillins.

The difference with respect to the original organism is that, by techniques of accelerating mutations and selecting strains, the final Penicillium is one million times more productive than the starting organism. A fact that reflects the importance of these fungi is that it is estimated that one out of 10 people on the planet is still alive thanks to them.

And another fungus: the insulin that is currently sold for diabetics also comes from fungi cultivations. In this case, genetically modified beer yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is cultivated. A gene producer of insulin is introduced into its DNA and, when expressed, produces this protein which is later purified and sold.