Biologists have identified the nerve poison of predatory oyster mushrooms

(ORDO NEWS) — Mushroom oyster mushrooms were littered with tiny shoots filled with a powerful neurotoxin that almost instantly paralyzes small worms.

Scientists managed to find out what this deadly poison consists of and how it works.

One of the most nutritious and popular mushrooms in the cuisines of different peoples, oyster mushrooms ( Pleurotus ostreatus ) are predators.

They get some of the nutrients they need from small animals, primarily roundworms (nematodes), killing them with a powerful nerve poison.

Taiwanese scientists were able to determine the composition of this toxin and show how it affects the victim.

Nematodes are numerous and widespread throughout the soil, serving as a valuable source of protein for fungi that have mastered predation.

Different types of mushrooms find very different ways to hunt them.

Some use specialized cells that pierce the victim’s body like a harpoon, others grow loops that instantly shrink around a worm that accidentally crawls through them.

Unlike these mechanisms, oyster mushrooms rely on “chemical weapons”. They get the bulk of their food by decomposing wood, growing in a dead trunk with thin branching threads (hyphae).

However, wood almost does not contain some valuable nutrients, primarily nitrogen compounds. This stimulated the development of predation in oyster mushrooms.

For hunting, microscopic processes are pulled out of the hyphae, at the tips of which spheres filled with toxin are formed.

As soon as the worm accidentally touches such toxocysts, the poison is released and begins to act. In a couple of minutes, he paralyzes and kills the victim, the hyphae grow into her body and begin to digest.

Yen-Ping Hsueh and colleagues demonstrated this mechanism back in 2020, showing that all of the 17 nematode species they tested were sensitive to oyster mushroom neurotoxin.

Then they showed that the poison affects the calcium channels of animal muscle cells, preventing the reabsorption of these ions and causing paralysis. However, it was not possible to identify the toxin itself at that time.

This work has only just been done. The scientists isolated the contents of oyster mushroom toxocysts and analyzed its composition using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.

It turned out that volatile ketone, 3-octanone , acts as a poison in oyster mushrooms. This substance is also found in some plants, and is even used as an aromatic additive.

In many fungi, 3-octanone acts as a signaling molecule for communication. However, it’s a matter of dosage.

Trace amounts of 3-octanone are quite harmless, small (as in plants) serve as a repellant that repels snails and slugs, but in large concentrations the ketone is fatal.

Scientists have demonstrated this by conducting experiments with several types of nematodes, showing that if the toxin contains more than 50 percent of 3-octanone, death occurs within seconds.

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