Scientists in Korea recently announced that they've found a better way to grow an insect-destroying mushroom in a lab. As creepy as it sounds, these particular fungi and the chemicals they produce may actually have medicinal uses for humans, which makes being able to study them more easily a definite positive.
The fungi - known as Cordyceps - is parasitic, usually feeding on insects and other arthropods. They invade and kill their hosts as they slowly turn their host's bodies into fuel to help them grow. Throughout this process, they release more infectious spores out into the world so that they might begin again...and again, and again.
Members of the Cordyceps genus - called Ophiocordyceps - can also be known for "zombifying" their ant hosts by manipulating their behavior before death to ensure their survival. In parts of Asia, these mushrooms are considered food and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for a very long time. Some research has suggested that the compound their chemicals supply - cordycepin - may have anti-viral or cancer-fighting properties.
The research has come largely from animal or lab studies, so it requires a lot more evidence finding with humans in order to confirm benefits. Experiments also require having an ample supply of the fungi, which is a challenge because they are difficult to find and harvest. Now that they can be cultivated in the lab, it makes that easier, but even still the supply of healthy and flourishing mushrooms is small.
This all sounds like a potential D&D trap to me, which is why I hope my dungeon master doesn't read this. Then again, I'm also a dungeon master, and I have read this. Sounds like a trip to the Underdark is in order...
My malicious musings aside, what do you think about this? Share your thoughts with me!