Fungi to the Rescue!

Written by Jacob Golan

As global change and the effects of the Anthropocene make endless headway, biodiversity continues to suffer. Even some of civilization’s oldest and most closely guarded companions seem unable to dodge all of the punches. Unsurprisingly, fungi are coming to the rescue—and, just as they like it, at the smallest of scales.

Honey bees, bumble bees, and over 20,000 other species are known to many as critical pollinators to natural and agricultural systems alike. But as bee populations die off in record numbers, with current loss rates as high as 40% due to Colony Collapse, Paul Stamets and colleagues have sought a remedy to this crisis among the mycota. Driven by personal observations of honey bees foraging on mycelia, Stamets et al. (2018) wondered if bees could possibly be self-medicating with natural compounds already present in fungal biomass.

Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by several factors, but the viruses transferred to bees from colony-squatting Verroa mites can be among the most lethal. Driven by the idea of bee self-medication, Stamets and colleagues have published in Scientific Reports (2018; 8:13936) their findings of an anti-viral response among bees that had been provided with extracts of Reishi (Ganoderma resinaceum) and Amadou (Fomes fomentarius). In a dose-dependent manner, extracts from these polypores reduce levels of deformed wing virus and Lake Sinai virus, in some cases by as much as 79 and 45,000 fold.

The extraction and administration of the fungal extracts are more or less straight-forward, as demonstrated by the authors in their paper, offering some promise that the bee-saving properties of these fungi, and perhaps others, could feasibly and economically bring bees back from the brink.

Stamets, Paul E., Nicholas L. Naeger, Jay D. Evans, Jennifer O. Han, Brandon K. Hopkins, Dawn Lopez, Henry M. Moershel, Regan Nally, David Sumerlin, Alex W. Taylor, Lori M. Carris, and Walter S. Sheppard. “Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees.” Scientific Reports 8, no. 1 (2018). doi:10.1038/s41598-018-32194-8.