A zombie-inducing fungus is worth more than gold

Cordyceps rising from dead grasshopper host (The Next Gen Scientist/Wikimedia)

A group of fungi under the genus Cordyceps gained traction because of their capability to turn hosts into zombie-like creatures in the recent HBO series “The Last of Us.” However, scientists shared that the scary fungi could soon be the next in-demand crop because of its potential in the field of medicine. 

Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a fungus prevalent in the lower slopes of the Himalayas and is known for its ability to control its host, usually caterpillars, and eventually make it end its life. Despite its terrible reputation, the caterpillar fungus has been used in Central and East Asia as an ingredient of traditional medicine for the treatment of multiple illnesses for hundreds of years already. 

Recently companies are also testing the fungus extract in supplements meant to enhance cognitive functions. People usually collect them along the mountain slopes during springtime.  

The increasing demand for high-quality caterpillar fungus is already pushing up its selling price exponentially, even reaching up to $140,000 per kilogram (7.72 million pesos), or about three times the price of gold in the market. The increasing demand could soon be affected by the scarcity of the fungus, especially due to the warming climate. According to research, the caterpillar fungus will try to migrate up the mountain to avoid the heat, making it more difficult for people to collect. 

The scarcity of caterpillar fungus, partnered with the exponential increase in demand, is expected to drive its market value even higher in the coming years. Scientists are now looking for ways to develop it in areas that are not necessarily mountainous, such as in greenhouses. 


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