Classification and Genome
- C. militaris
Until recently, it was part of the family Clavicipitaceae, but genetic analyses of several loci split this family in three—Cordycipitaceae, Clavicipitaceae, and Ophiocordycipitaceae. Cordycipitaceae are characterized especially by their brightly colored, fleshy stromata.
The C. militaris genome was shotgun sequenced , and analysis showed a reduction in protein families (suggesting a more restricted ecology), large secretomes, and an absence of genes coding for known human mycotoxins.
Description and Distribution
Like most other Cordyceps species, C. militaris is an entomopathogen. It primarily infects the pupae stages—in the ground—of various Lepidopteran species, multiplying in the host over winter. The overgrowth of hyphae eventually kill the insect, after which club-like stromata erupt from the body and through the soil. The sexual perithecial stroma is generally bright yellow or orange.
C. militaris is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, with reports originating from Ireland to India. It has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, though the endemic Ophiocordyceps sinensis (formerly Cordyceps sinensis) is more widely known.
In contrast to the host specificity demonstrated by other Hypocreales parasites, C. militaris can infect various species around its widespread distribution; it has even been demonstrated to grow on germinated soybeans and rice grains. This generalist approach may be a consequence of the reduction in protein families involved in nutrient scavenging, evasion of host defenses, and other pathogenic genes relative to other ascomycetes.
Though not as extensively studied as O. sinensis, the mechanism of infection for C. militaris is thought to be similar to others across the Hypocreales order of endoparasites. A spore(s) will stick to the exoskeleton of the host—generally a larva pupating underground—forming a short germ tube with an appressorium. An infection peg formed on the ventral side of the appressorium penetrates the host’s exoskeleton using both mechanical pressed and lipases and/or proteases. Once inside, the hyphae of C. militaris will proliferate into an endosclerotium, appearing as a solid white mass of mycelium in one autopsy of an infected host. This proliferation of the mycelium kills the host as the biomass replaces the host’s organs. From the overwintering endosclerotium, stromata erupt from host and protrude from the ground, usually late summer or fall.
The protruding stromata are usually bumpy from the protrusions of the perithecial ostioles, with the spores contained in the asci within.
Several studies have shown C. militaris to be sexually heterothallic. However, one study found it can also fruit without a opposite mating-type partner, forming a fruiting body lacking perithecia and ascospores (both MAT1-1 single mating-type, and MAT1-1/MAT1-2 hybrid)
Current research is working to substantiate claims by traditional Chinese medicine regarding C. militaris’ efficacy in a myriad of health issues, from reversing senility to treating cancer. Many of these benefits involve cordycepin, one of the first compounds characterized from the Cordyceps species and shown to have antibacterial properties. Numerous reports have shown C. militaris acting on different pathways to reduce tumor growth, namely by inducing apoptosis in cancerous cells and inhibiting angiogenesis and metastasis. Preliminary studies have shown it to be especially efficacious for leukemia and non-small cell lung cancer treatments. Other studies indicate its potential for treating diabetes, obesity, African trypanosomiasis, and for immunomodulation .
Cordyceps militaris is also known as Scarlet Caterpillar Club, Caterpillar Killer. Its anamorph stage is Lecanicillium
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