Information

Why are some fungi poisonous?


There are many poisonous fungi in nature. For example Amanita Phalloides. What reasons could a fungus need poison for? Some species, like venomous snakes, use poison to kill other species as prey. But what about fungi? I can't think of any purpose for poison in fungi. If poison has no real function in fungi shouldn't evolution get rid of it?


The same reason some plants are poisonous: to stop animals from eating them.

The visible part of the fungus is called, rather misleadingly, the fruiting body. It exists to produce and spread spores and thus produce the next fungal generation. Getting eaten, rather obviously, inhibits its ability to do this. Being poisonous discourages animals from eating the fruiting body and thus permits it to complete its life cycle.


Food Poisoning Caused by Bacteria and Fungi

In this article we will discuss about the food poisoning that is caused by bacteria and fungi.

Food-Poisoning Caused by Bacteria (Bacterial Food-Intoxications):

There are two major food-poisoning or food-intoxications caused by bacteria.

Botulism and Staphylococcal-poisoning.

1. Botulism:

Botulism is caused by the ingestion of food containing the neurotoxin (toxin that affects the nervous system) produced by Clostridium botulinum, an anaerobic spore forming bacterium. Sixty to seventy per cent cases of botulism die. There are 7 types (type A, B, C, D, E, F, G) of these neurotoxins recognised on the basis of serological specificity.

The neurotoxin of C. botulinum is a protein. It has been purified and crystallized and is so powerful that only a dose as low as 0.01 mg is said to be fatal to human beings. The toxin is absorbed mostly in the small intestine and paralyzes the involuntary muscles of the body.

The main sources of botulism are canned meat, fish, string beans, sweet corn, beans, and other low medium acid foods. The foods implicated are generally those of a type that have undergone some treatment intended for the preservation of the product such as canning, pickling or smoking, but one which failed to destroy the spores of this bacterium.

When the intended preservative treatment is inadequate and is followed by storage conditions which permit the germination and growth of the microorganisms, one of the most lethal toxins known to humanity is produced. The toxin has been known to persist in foods for long periods, especially when storage has been at low temperatures. It is unstable at pH value above 6.8.

Temperature is considered to be the most important factor in determining whether toxin production will take place and what the rate of production will be. Various strains of C. botulinum types A and B vary in their temperature requirements a few strains grow at 10 to 11°C. However, the lowest temperature for germination of spores of the most of the strains is 15°C and maximum of 48°C.

Symptoms generally occur within 12 to 36 hours after consumption of the spoiled food. Early symptoms are digestive disturbances followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea together with dizziness and headache. Double vision may occur early and there may be difficulty in speaking.

Mouth may become dry, throat constricted, tongue may get swollen and coated. Involuntary muscles become paralysed and paralysis spreads to the respiratory system and to the heart. Death normally results from respiratory failure.

Canned food should be properly processed by using approved heat processes. Food that has been cooked but not well heated should be avoided. Raw foods and frozen foods thawed and held at room temperature should be avoided. Gassy and spoiled canned foods should be rejected. Boiling of suspected food for at least 15 minutes is required.

Successful treatment is by the administration of polyvalent antitoxin in the early stages of infection. Once the symptoms appear the treatment fails to prove useful.

2. Staphylococcal-Poisoning:

This is the most common type of food-poisoning caused due to the food contaminated with a potent toxin, namely, enterotoxin. This toxin is produced by certain strains of Staphylococcus aureus. A sudden onset of illness starts usually within 3 to 6 hours after ingestion of the contaminated food.

These bacteria are commonly present on the skin, nose and other parts of human body. People who handle foods carelessly usually transfer them to the food. Foods most commonly contaminated involve those which are eaten cold, e.g., cold meat, poultry, salads, bakery products, etc.

As said earlier, the disease starts within 3 to 6 hours after ingestion of the contaminated food and is manifested by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea within 24 to 48 hours. If the case becomes severe, dehydration and collapse may follow. However, in usual conditions death is rare.

The disease can be controlled by preventing the entry of the bacteria to food. It is important that all susceptible foods are kept under refrigeration to restrict the growth of the bacteria and also by the destruction of the bacteria by heat.

Food-Poisoning (Mycointoxications) Caused by Fungi:

Mycotoxins are chemical substances produced by a variety of fungi, e.g., aspergilli, penicilli, Rhizopus, Fusarium spp., and mushrooms (poisonous called toadstools). The illness that results from the ingestion of foods containing fungal toxins is called ‘mycotoxicosis’. Mycologists have come to discover a number of mycotoxins which have proved extremely harmful, sometimes lethal to animals and human beings.

Important ones are as follows:

1. Anatoxins:

Aflatoxins are one of the most potent mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus flavus and related strains. It has been found that about 60% strains of A. flavus produce this toxin. This discovery of aflatoxins is comparatively of recent origin. In 1960, about 100,000 Turkey poults died in England within few months. It was found that the peanut meal fed to them was heavily contaminated with A. flavus.

The chemical substance isolated from such peanut meal was found toxic and was named ‘aflatoxin’. However, some other fungi, e.g., Aspergillus niger, A. oryzae, A. ochraceus, Penicillium citrinum, etc. have also been reported to produce anatoxins. So the name aflatoxin is now generally used for a number of related toxins.

Anatoxins occupy the most important position among mycotoxins because of their potent carcinogenic nature and high frequency of occurrence in nature. More specifically, aflatoxin B1 is one of the most potent aflatoxins. They are responsible for liver cancer in laboratory animals and even human beings.

2. Amatoxins and Phallotoxins:

These two mycotoxins are considered to be produced by the poisonous mushroom Amanita phalloides, the so called death cap. This mushroom is deadly poisonous and almost about 90 to 95% deaths of mushroom-eaters in Europe have been due to eating of this fungus. These two mycotoxins are chemically cyclopeptides.

According to Lincoff and Mitchel (1977) the most potent amatoxins are α-amanitin and β-amanitin while the phalloidin is the most potent phallotoxin. However, studies reveal the fact that these are the amatoxins which are strongly poisonous comparatively, and are responsible for producing hypoglycemia, liver-distrophy and kidney-failure leading to the death of the victim.

3. Coprine:

This mycotoxin is thought to be present in an edible mushroom, namely, Coprinus atramentanius. This chemical becomes toxic and results in gastrointestinal upsets and other physical discomforts when the mushroom-eating is accompanied with alcohol.

4. Gyromitrin:

Gyromitrin (monomethylhydrazine) is deadly poisonous mycotoxin reported to be present in the fruiting bodies (basidiomata) of saddle fungi (Helvella spp.) and false morels (Gyromitra spp.). This toxin is water soluble. It is thought that if the fruiting bodies be parboiled two or three times and the liquid discarded, the mushrooms become safe to eat.

5. Ochratoxins:

Ochratoxin was first isolated from the filtrates of Aspergillus ochraceus and is now produced by a number of Aspergillus and Penicillium spp., with Penicillium verrucosum being the dominating producer.

These mycotoxins represent a group of closely related derivatives of isocoumarin linked to L-phenylalanine, an amino acid, and are reported mainly in temperate area of North America and Europe. Ochratoxins occur mainly in grains but have also been reported in coffee, beans and peanuts, and are toxic to ducklings, chicks and rats.

6. Trichothecenes:

Trichothecenes are produced by the species of Fusarium, Cephalosporium, Myrothecium, Trichoderma and Stachybotrys. Out of 30 known trichothecenes, T-2 toxin, nivalenol and deoxynivalenol are of common occurrence, and cause a hyperestrogenic syndrome, haemorrhage and sometimes abortion in swine.


New Study Explains Why Some Fungi Glow

According to a study co-led by Dr Cassius Stevani of the University of São Paulo and Prof Jay Dunlap of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, the green light emitted from bioluminescent fungi attracts the attention of insects, including beetles, flies, wasps, and ants, which are apparently good for the fungi because the insects spread their spores. The study also shows that their bioluminescence is controlled by a temperature-compensated circadian clock.

Neonothopanus gardneri. Image credit: Marina Capelari et al, doi: 10.3852/11-097.

Bioluminescence is simply the ability of organisms to produce light on their own. Jellyfish and fireflies might be the most familiar bioluminescent creatures, but organisms from bacteria to fungi to insects and fish make their own glow through a variety of chemical processes.

Glowing fungi have captured the imagination of cultures around the world. They have been well-known for centuries, from the bright orange and poisonous Jack-o-Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus spp.) to the phenomenon known as ‘foxfire,’ where the nutrient-sipping threads of the Honey Mushroom (Armillaria spp.) give off a faint but eerie glow in rotten logs.

Only 71 of more than 100,000 recognized species of fungi produce light in a biochemical process that requires oxygen and energy.

Biologists had believed in most cases that fungi produce light around the clock, suggesting that perhaps it was a simple, if expensive, metabolic byproduct.

The new study, published online March 19 in the journal Current Biology, suggests that just isn’t so, at least not in the case of Neonothopanus gardneri, one of the biggest and brightest of glowing fungi.

Prof Dunlap, Dr Stevani and their colleagues found that the Neonothopanus gardneri’s glow is under the control of a temperature-compensated circadian clock. They suggest that this level of control probably helps the fungi save energy by turning on the light only when it’s easy to see.

To find out what that green glow might do for the fungi, the team made sticky, fake fungi out of acrylic resin and lit some from the inside with green LED lights.

When those pretend fungi were placed in the forest where the real Neonothopanus gardneri is found, the ones that were lit led many more staphilinid rove beetles, as well as flies, wasps, ants, and ‘true bugs,’ to get stuck than did sticky dark fungi.

The scientists said they are interested in identifying the genes responsible for the bioluminescence in fungi and exploring their interaction with the circadian clock that controls them. They are also using infrared cameras to watch the interaction between Neonothopanus gardneri and arthropods, especially larger ones, more closely.

“The findings are not only cool, they are also important in understanding how mushrooms are dispersed in the environment,” the scientists said.

“That’s key because fungi such as Neonothopanus gardneri play an important role in the forest ecosystem.”


Why are some mushrooms poisonous?

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you&rsquod like an expert to answer, send it to [email protected]

Why are some mushrooms poisonous and some are not? &ndash Alice T., age 11

You may have noticed that mushrooms pop up in your yard or in parks right after a rain but don&rsquot last for long.

A mushroom is the above-ground part of a fungus. Most of the time, fungi live as threadlike structures called hyphae underground or in materials like wood. For fungi to reproduce, a mushroom must form above ground.

Some mushrooms are poisonous for the same reason some plants are poisonous &ndash to protect themselves from being eaten so they can reproduce. Other mushrooms use the opposite strategy. They need animals to eat them in order to spread spores through poop. Still other mushrooms have completely different game plans.

Mushrooms develop when the temperature is right and there is enough water. They usually consist of a cap and a stalk. On the underside of the cap, mushrooms produce spores that, like the seeds of plants, produce new fungi.

If you peek under a variety of mushroom caps, you will notice they are not all the same.

Some mushrooms have gills that look like a pleated sheet of paper. Some have pores that look like sponges. And some have toothlike structures. All of these surfaces produce spores. To create a new generation of fungi, spores need to get to new areas &ndash and there are many fascinating ways mushrooms accomplish this.

For some mushrooms, spores simply fall from their caps and are carried to new homes by air currents.

Other mushrooms attract insects by glowing at night. The glow from fungi in the woods at night can be very strong and is sometimes called foxfire. Insects, which are attracted to the light, inadvertently pick up spores as they investigate the glow and carry them elsewhere when they move on.

Some mushrooms never form an above-ground structure. Instead the mushroom stays underground and is eaten by squirrels and mice, which spread the spores by taking pieces back to their nests and by pooping. Such mushrooms are called truffles, and sometimes people will pay a lot of money for them.

Since mushrooms don&rsquot last long, it&rsquos important they spread their spores quickly. This is where poisons and toxins can come in.

Mushrooms are pretty tasty to snails, some insects, beetles, chipmunks, squirrels, deer and people. If an animal eats a mushroom, usually its spores are lost &ndash unless they&rsquore the type encased in a protective covering meant to be carried to a new neighborhood in poop.

Scientists have figured out that insects and snails avoid eating mushrooms that contain poison. Some mushroom poisons may make the eater only sick enough to avoid that species in the future, but some can be fatal.

There are many different mushroom poisons. One kind belongs to a group of very beautiful mushrooms, the amanitas, also called &ldquodestroying angels&rdquo because they are both pretty and deadly. Amanitas are often mistaken for mushrooms that can be eaten, and they cause several deaths worldwide each year.

People use some mushroom poisons in medicine. The poison of the ergot fungus, for example, was developed into a drug used to prevent migraine headaches.

Approximately 1%-2% of mushrooms are poisonous to humans. The common term for such a mushroom is a &ldquotoadstool,&rdquo but there is no easy way to distinguish a poisonous mushroom from one that is edible. So it&rsquos not a good idea to eat mushrooms you find, because it&rsquos hard to be sure whether they&rsquore poisonous or not.

Many mushrooms are healthy and delicious. Just make sure you get them from a store or from someone who is a mushroom expert.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you&rsquod like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to [email protected] Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit &ndash adults, let us know what you&rsquore wondering, too. We won&rsquot be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.


Mushrooms

Mushrooms, or toadstools, are the fruiting body common to many species of fungi and are used to store and release spores into the environment. A mushroom is made from a collection of fungal cells called hyphae, which are woven together to produce a spore bearing mushroom.

Where can mushrooms be found?

Many species of fungi would be almost completely inconspicuous were it not for their large mushrooms because the rest of their tissue is hidden within the substrate they are feeding on, e.g. wooden logs or decaying leaves. Mushrooms can be found in most of the Earth’s environments but are particularly common in damp areas where their fungal bodies are most efficient at decomposing.

Taxonomy

A mushroom is an example of a basidiocarp, a reproductive structure common to all species of fungi within the division Basidiomycota. The word ‘basidium’ refers to the pedestal-like structures of the fungi within the division. These structures are also responsible for their common name, the club fungi.

Why do fungi produce mushrooms?

The purpose of mushrooms is to bear spores and release them into the environment. Any given mushroom may house and release as many as a billion spores. The spores are then carried by the wind or water and germinate if they land in a nice moist environment with a good food source. This method of dispersal has allowed for single species of fungi to be found all around the globe.

How are mushrooms important?

Mushrooms are of huge economic importance especially in Asia and Europe where most of the world’s mushrooms are grown and eaten. They have been harvested and cultivated for centuries for their nutritional value and taste. The most common market sold mushroom is Agaricus bisporus, or the common white mushroom, which is considered safe to eat (by mushroom standards) but does in fact have toxins which are destroyed during cooking. Many mushrooms can be fatally poisonous and eating wild mushrooms should be avoided unless you have a good knowledge of which mushrooms are safe to eat.

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How Poisonous Mushrooms Cook Up Toxins

Heather Hallen spent eight years looking for poison in all the wrong places.

Alpha-amanitin is the poison of the death cap mushroom, Amanita phalloides. The Michigan State University plant biology research associate was looking for a big gene that makes a big enzyme that produces alpha-amanitin, since that's how other fungi produce similar compounds. But after years of defeat, she and her team called in the big guns -- new technology that sequences DNA about as fast as a death cap mushroom can kill.

The results: The discovery of remarkably small genes that produce the toxin -- a unique pathway previously unknown in fungi.

The discovery is reported in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is work that not only solves a mystery of how some mushrooms make the toxin -- but also sheds light on the underlying biochemical machinery. It might be possible one day to harness the mushroom genes to make novel chemicals that would be useful as new drugs.

"We think we have a factory that spits out lots of little sequences to make chemicals in Amanita mushrooms," said Jonathan Walton, MSU plant biology professor who leads Hallen's team. "Our work indicates that these mushrooms have evolved a mechanism to make dozens or even hundreds of new, previously unknown chemicals, besides the toxins that we know about."

Of the thousands of species of mushrooms, only about 30 produce alpha-amanitin. Most of them look much like their edible cousins. But poisonous mushrooms are powerful in folklore and in history. In 54 A.D., Emperor Tiberius Claudius was fed a death cap mushroom by his wife Agrippina to put her son Nero on the throne of Rome.

Alpha-amanitin kills people by inhibiting an enzyme necessary for expression of most genes. Without the ability to synthesize new proteins, cells quickly grind to a halt. The intestinal tract and the liver are the hardest hit as they come into first contact with the toxin. By the time symptoms show up, a liver transplant is often the only hope.

Hallen, a mycologist, gathers mushrooms in the Michigan woods and often is called upon to help identify mushroom species for veterinarians, parents of small children and local hospitals -- often in a desperate race to beat alpha-amanitin's effects.

Walton's lab works to understand the biochemical pathways by which natural products are synthesized in fungi. Fungal natural products that benefit human health include penicillin and the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporin. Studying their biosynthesis could lead to the discovery and development of new medicines.

To find the elusive gene for alpha-amanitin, they used what they term "brute force" -- a new machine at MSU that can sequence immense quantities of DNA quickly. The 454 LifeSciences pyrosequencer generates 100 Mb DNA sequence in one overnight run - twice the size of a fungal genome. Traditional sequencing methods require months to yield the same quantities. What they found was a gene that encodes the toxin directly -- with no need to first synthesize an enzyme that in turn would make the toxin.

"The RNA goes in, and out comes the backbone of the toxin," Hallen said. After its initial synthesis, the toxin is then modified in several ways by the mushroom to make it exceptionally poisonous.

Walton said the discovery poses some interesting evolutionary questions. For example, why do only some mushrooms produce this toxin" And how did a handful of other, unrelated mushrooms evolve the same trait" Finding the genes points to how the trait could appear in one mushroom, but not how it evolved in mushrooms that aren't related to Amanita.

Hallen and Walton also see the doors opening to a diagnostic test that could use DNA to determine if a mushroom is toxic or not. Identifying a mushroom by shape and color alone is often impossible if the mushroom has been cooked or partially digested, yet rapid and accurate identification in an emergency room situation is critical.

The work was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Plant Research Lab, the MSU Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and a Strategic Partnership Grant from the MSU Foundation.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Fungi and Human Disease

Fungi cause human illness in three different ways: poisonings, parasitic infections, and allergic reactions. Science on the SPOT: Fungus Fair explores some of these dangerous but also tasty and weirdly wonderful fungi.

Fungal Poisoning

Many fungi protect themselves from parasites and predators by producing toxic chemicals. If people eat toxic fungi, they may experience digestive problems, hallucinations, organ failure, and even death. Most cases of mushroom poisoning are due to mistaken identity. That&rsquos because many toxic mushrooms look very similar to safe, edible mushrooms. An example is shown in Figure below.

Poisonous or Edible? The destroying angel mushroom on the left causes liver and kidney failure. The puffball mushroom on the right is tasty and harmless. Do you think you could tell these two species of mushrooms apart?

Fungal Parasites

Some fungi cause disease when they become human parasites. Two examples are fungi in the genera Candida and Trichophyton.

  • Candida are yeast that cause candidiasis, commonly called a &ldquoyeast infection.&rdquo The yeast can infect the mouth or the vagina. If yeast enter the blood, they cause a potentially life threatening illness. However, this is rare, except in people with a depressed immune system.
  • Trichophyton are fungi that cause ringworm. This is a skin infection characterized by a ring-shaped rash. The rash may occur on the arms, legs, head, neck, or trunk. The same fungi cause athlete&rsquos foot when they infect the skin between the toes. Athlete&rsquos foot is the second most common skin disease in the U.S.

Figure below shows signs of these two infections.

Ringworm produces a ring-shaped rash, but it isn&rsquot caused by a worm. It&rsquos caused by the same fungus that causes athlete&rsquos foot.

Fungal Allergies

Mold allergies are very common. They are caused by airborne mold spores. When the spores enter the respiratory tract, the immune system responds to them as though they were harmful microbes. Symptoms may include sneezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. The symptoms are likely to be more severe in people with asthma or other respiratory diseases. Long-term exposure to mold spores may also weaken the immune system.

Molds grow indoors as well as out. Indoors, they grow in showers, basements, and other damp places. Homes damaged in floods and hurricanes may have mold growing just about everywhere (see Figure below). Indoor mold may cause more health problems than outdoor mold because of the closed, confined space. Most people also spend more time indoors than out.

The mold growing on the walls and ceiling of this storm-damaged home may be harmful to human health.


Spreading spores

Mushrooms develop when the temperature is right and there is enough water. They usually consist of a cap and a stalk. On the underside of the cap, mushrooms produce spores that, like the seeds of plants, produce new fungi.

If you peek under a variety of mushroom caps, you will notice they are not all the same.

Some mushrooms have gills that look like a pleated sheet of paper. Some have pores that look like sponges. And some have toothlike structures. All of these surfaces produce spores. To create a new generation of fungi, spores need to get to new areas – and there are many fascinating ways mushrooms accomplish this.

For some mushrooms, spores simply fall from their caps and are carried to new homes by air currents.

The ghost fungus, Omphalotus nidiformis, at night in an Australian driveway. Louise Docker Sydney Australia/Moment via Getty Images

Other mushrooms attract insects by glowing at night. The glow from fungi in the woods at night can be very strong and is sometimes called foxfire. Insects, which are attracted to the light, inadvertently pick up spores as they investigate the glow and carry them elsewhere when they move on.

Some mushrooms never form an above-ground structure. Instead the mushroom stays underground and is eaten by squirrels and mice, which spread the spores by taking pieces back to their nests and by pooping. Such mushrooms are called truffles, and sometimes people will pay a lot of money for them.


Nicholas Evans: A poisonous mistake

Fungi are amazing organisms, and from experience they can be delicious too! But some fungi also contain deadly toxins. Nicholas Evans, the author of the Horse Whisperer, is all too aware of this after he accidentally picked deadly webcap mushrooms on a foraging trip to the woods. Kate Lamble spoke to him about his experiences.

Kate - Last time we met Nicholas, I was working on a TV book show and in order to get the interview, I remember that we had to arrange this mad dash on a motorbike across London.

Nicholas - You remember that.

Nicholas - It was terribly exciting.

Kate - It was, but it was in order to get you to something a bit more serious, to dialysis. Thankfully, I hear you're better now, but can you tell me a bit about how you got so ill in the first place?

Nicholas - My wife and I and our young son who was 6 years old at the time went to visit her relatives in Scotland and while we were there, we were told by somebody who lived there that there were some fabulous ceps and chanterelles growing in the woods.

Nobody else seem to be interested in going, so I walked up the track and went into this wood and there they were, just two kinds of mushrooms growing there and I know chanterelles well from lots of times that I've been there before. The other mushrooms which were supposedly ceps looked a bit different from the ceps that I had picked probably about 12 years before with a friend here in Devon where I live. I thought, well maybe it's a variety that's slightly different from the ones that grow down south. So anyway, I picked them. We prepared them and I cooked them in a bit of butter and with the chanterelles, and some parsley which is what I would normally do. Thank God! The 4 children who were eating with us 4 adults had the good sense not to eat any of the mushrooms. They didn't taste terribly good actually. They tasted kind of earthy, but they were okay enough for both of the men, Alastair, Charlotte's brother and myself to have a second helping.

Kate - How much did you know about mushrooms and mushroom picking beforehand because we've got quite a phobia of going out and do that in the UK at least? The mushrooms that we eat are quite limited. Did you feel comfortable enough to go out and sort of feel like you knew what you were doing when you were choosing the mushrooms?

Nicholas - I've normally, ever since I was a kid, with my dad, picked field mushrooms. To be honest, I haven't through my life picked much that's exotic. I've cooked and eaten little tiny putballs which are fantastic, the occasional parasol mushroom, but most things, I wouldn't touch because I just would not feel confident of them. And even if I picked them, I'd come back and identify them, but I would throw them away. But on this occasion, it was a case of two people, each believing the other knew what he or she was doing.

It turned out that the lady who told me that they were ceps had always called all brown mushrooms ceps. And when she told us that the next day when we were starting to vomit and have diarrhoea, we all kind of gasped a bit. Had it not had such tragic consequences, it would have been a really interesting case of passing the trust to somebody else you just believe what the other person is saying and suspend your own natural sort of protective instincts.

Kate - And that moment of trusting in somebody else's judgment, how quickly did you know that something wasn't right and that they weren't ceps?

Nicholas - The next morning, Alastair started to feel sick and then as the day went on, my wife Charlotte started feeling odd and then by about mid-afternoon, I started feeling a little bit weird. And then it all started to develop very, very quickly and by the end of the next day, all four of us were in Elgin Hospital.

Kate - How long did it take for the hospital to work out that it was the mushrooms?

Nicholas - We had this family doctor came around and we knew pretty well actually what they were. I mean, we looked in the book the very next morning when Alastair started feeling ill and Charlotte was already ill. It was so clear from the photograph that what we had eaten, it wasn't a cep. It was themushroom called cortinarius speciosissimus which some people call the deadly webcap apparently. It had a rather comforting skull and cross bones underneath it, with a little caption, deadly poisonous.

Kate - How did you react when you saw that? I imagine, I would have just been terrified.

Nicholas - We knew something was going on obviously and there was a sort of mounting fear, but it wasn't like as a panic. We thought it would be sorted. We thought we'd just get like a severe case of food poisoning. We didn't know exactly what this mushroom does and unlike some other mushrooms which actually, in a sense I suppose are more dangerous because they attack all of your organs, often the liver, this cortinarius speciosissimus is very choosy. It just heads straight for the kidney and closes your kidney down, and we were being prepared for dialysis pretty much straight away. You stop peeing almost immediately or a couple of little drops. I didn't pee for 3 years after it actually untill I got a transplant. And just shocking sickness for the first week, I really wanted to die. We all did actually and it was only the thought of our little 6-year-old boy that really kept me and my wife alive. It would've been much better to surrender to it and go actually.

Kate - As I say, the last time I saw you, you were on dialysis and that was quite a while after the initial incident. How long did you remain on dialysis and the problems went on for?

Nicholas - I started taking a toll my heart, the dialysis puts your heart under tremendous pressure and that's when although my daughter Lauren had offered right from the start, as had all of my kids, even Finlay who was 10 years old by then and 9 years old and it was only when my heart was in trouble and my daughters said, "Dad, you really got to wake up. You're going to take my kidney." She said, "I'm not being wonderfully unselfish. I'm being really selfish. I just like you to be around when I have kids and get to meet them." And so, we did it and my life completely changed. I was just - I discovered about a month after the transplant what I used to feel like and then Charlotte had her transplant a year after mine and she is now wonderfully fit and well, and we are back to normal.

Kate - What's your advice for anyone who goes out wild picking like you did?

Nicholas - The advice which I have always followed except for this one isolated and absolutely catastrophic occasion is that you should never eat anything without checking first in a very good mushroom book. Mushrooms go through different phases as they grow, so it's important to have a picture and text on the various stages of growth. A mushroom that comes out of the ground looks often quite sort of closed in on itself and then it can spread and become something that looks almost altogether different. So, you have to be sure of what you're eating and if you don't, you're like we were, foolish.


A fungus known as the honey mushroom is the largest living organism on the planet. It is believed to be about 2400 years old and covers over 2000 acres. Interestingly enough, it kills trees as it spreads.

There you have it, seven interesting facts about fungi. There are many additional interesting facts about fungi that range from fungi being used to produce the citric acid used in many beverages to fungi being the cause for 'zombie ants'. Some fungi are bioluminescent and can even glow in the dark. While scientists have classified many of the fungi in nature, it is estimated that there are vast numbers that remain unclassified so their potential uses are likely numerous.