Fungi have a titillating sex-life with up to 28,000 sexual identities to choose from, as well as sex-free procreation. That makes things tricky for mycologists, as Kathie Hodge from Cornell University found in 1994.
When she and her students went mushroom hunting in the woods of Ithaca in New York, they found a mysterious fungus sprouting from the corpse of a beetle grub. It was identified as C. subsessilis, a member of an insect- eating group of fungi known as Cordyceps. The surprise came when Hodge germinated the spores. They appeared to develop into a totally different species, the mould Tolypocladium. In fact, what Hodge discovered is that mouldy Tolypocladium is the asexual form of insect devouring C. subsessilis. Tolypocladium is famous as the source of the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine. Discovered 47 years ago, the drug single-handedly made organ transplants possible. Thanks to Hodge’s woodland discovery, scientists are now fossicking in dead insects for the next generation of immunosuppressant drugs.