Mushroom medicine: largely unknown with great potential

Mushroom medicine: largely unknown with great potential

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With mushrooms in search of new active ingredients

Fungi have been used in indigenous peoples to relieve symptoms for thousands of years. They contain many, sometimes unknown, active ingredients. Nevertheless, mushrooms play a subordinate role in modern medicine. A research team from the Netherlands has now rediscovered the huge potential of fungal medicine.

Researchers from the Hubrecht Institute, the Westerdijk Institute and the University of Utrecht jointly investigated the potential of fungi to find new active substances against common diseases. In doing so, they came across a huge, previously unused potential of opportunities. The researchers describe their discovery as the “tip of the iceberg”. The results of the study were recently presented in the renowned scientific reports.

The largest mushroom collection in the world

Mushrooms have a huge library of natural ingredients that could help us find new medicines. The researchers were able to carry out their study on the world's largest collection of living mushrooms, which is home to more than ten thousand species. The team tested the biological activity of the fungi on zebrafish embryos. Zebra fish are often used in animal models because they are physiologically very similar to humans.

Old acquaintance

During the first tests, the team discovered previously known compounds in the fungi that are used in current medicines. For example, the fungus Aspergillus terreus contains the active ingredient lovastatin, which is used in cholesterol-lowering medications.

Unused potential

"New compounds produced by fungi are identified every year, but so far we have only examined a very small subset of all existing fungi," explains research director Jelmer Hoeksma. This suggests that there are still many unknown biologically active compounds to be discovered.

Zebra fish and mushrooms

According to the researchers, the effects of the individual fungi were well demonstrated in the zebra fish embryos, since the zebra fish develop most of their organs within a few days. A comparison with known medications can also be carried out quickly using the animal model.

Collect in mushrooms

In this way, the researchers found a total of 1,526 fungal filtrates that contain biologically active compounds on the zebrafish embryos. 150 of these were selected for further analysis. The team was able to isolate 34 known active substances from these samples, such as the already mentioned lovastatin. In this way, the researchers found a previously unknown way of obtaining active ingredients.

New approach to skin cancer

Among the active substances discovered was a compound that influenced pigmentation in zebrafish embryos. Other studies have already shown that pigmentation plays a crucial role in the development of skin cancer. The newly discovered active ingredient could contribute to the development of a new skin cancer therapy.

Only the tip of the iceberg discovered

"The large library of fungal filtrates that we have built can also be tested in many other systems, such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria or in tumor development," says Hoeksma. This study is only the tip of the iceberg of fungal medicine. The work underlines the large and unknown variety of biologically active compounds that are produced by fungi. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Jelmer Hoeksma, Tim Misset, Christie Wever, u.a .: A new perspective on fungal metabolites: identification of bioactive compounds from fungi using zebrafish embryogenesis as read-out, Scientific Reports, 2019,
  • Hubrecht Institute: Using fungi to search for medical drugs (accessed: November 27, 2019),

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