I visited a primary care physician for the first time in about four years. The last time I visited one was before coming to Alabama. My blood work came back showing that my previously OK cholesterol levels had gone ballistic. I attribute the jump to getting cozy with the southern diet. Too much BBQ, too many chicken fingers. So the bad news is that the good times of ignorantly eating and drinking to my heart's (dis)content are over. Better to know now than to find out in the emergency room, I suppose. So what does this have to do with fungi? It has to do with the prescription the doctor handed me.
As it turns out, the cholesterol-lowering wonder drugs of the 21st century, statins, were originally derived from fungi. Now mainly synthesized, these drugs work by inhibiting a key enzyme in cholesterol production, HMG-CoA reductase. Some of the first research on statins was performed by Dr. Akira Endo, a biochemist, who found cholesterol-inhibiting compounds in Penicillium citrinum. Penicillium spp., besides being very common mold agents, also gave us the first antibiotic discovery, penicillin.
Endo and Masao Kuroda hypothesized that Fungi could defend themselves from other organisms by inhibiting cholesterol production, and fortunately for millions of people, they were correct.
The ability to produce statins is apparently widespread throughout the true Fungi, even the oyster mushroom is naturally high in lovastatin (link to PDF). Antibiotics and statins, two of the most important medical discoveries of the past 100 years. Thanks, Fungi!
Update-1/19/10. I just found this article, which may help defuse one of the problems with statins, the grapefruit juice contraindication. The answer? more edible fungi, of course!
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
George Washington Carver died. The 'Black Leonardo' is most famous for his work with peanuts, making darn near everything with them, he got his start at the institution which is now Iowa State University, where he earned his Master's degree, and worked in plant pathology and mycology. What did he do? I surely don't know. But given his status among the luminaries that Alabama may claim (having taught just down the road at Tuskegee Institute), I'd like to pay homage.