Mushroom cultivation on pests

The forest habitat is habitat to a large variety of insects and fungi that form both symbiotic and parasitic relationships.
The FUNGINSECT project is focussing on the Scarlet Caterpillar Club (Cordyceps), a vital mushroom that contains medically valuable substances. In nature, it grows on bark beetle larvae, among other insects, and thus contributes to a balance in the ecosystem. In addition, the bark beetle has another fungal symbiont that helps it to find weakened trees. The FUNGINSECT project combines the properties of these two fungi: the symbiotic fungus lures the bark beetles into the trap; the vital fungus decomposes the bark beetles. The aim is to regulate a regional overpopulation of the bark beetle and at the same time enable the fruitful cultivation of Cordyceps in order to obtain medicinal substances.

student:Louis Steinhauser

The Insect Project
– Resilience Part I

The role of the bark beetle in the forest ecosystem is a broad and complex field. It is often assumed that the main cause of mass tree mortality is the insect itself. On closer inspection, however, the picture is somewhat different. There are various factors that put additional pressure on the forest and support the beetle in its reproduction. First and foremost is climate change, which is causing prolonged periods of heat. Due to the prolonged heat, there is a higher number of generation changes in the beetles and less heat-resistant plants dry out. Another point that has so far been underestimated is the influence of fungi on the well-being of trees. Many cultures live within the tree organism and extract nutrients from the trees, recognisable by the so-called blue rot that appears on the wood. In spruce, one of the most affected tree species, it has been found that a similar fungus forms a symbiosis with the spruce bark beetle, a species of bark beetle that specialises in this tree species. As a result, its spores are spread further into the forest. In the process, the fungus breaks down the resin necessary to protect the spruce. When the resin components are metabolised, volatile compounds are produced which the bark beetle can then detect. In this way, the fungus makes it easier for the bark beetle to access the bast area under the bark, where it lays its eggs.
The FUNGINSECT project is focussing on these fungus-insect relationships. There are fungi that have a parasitic relationship with insects, the so-called „Entomopathogenic Fungi”. My project deals specifically with the chrysalis fungus (Cordyceps militaris). This is a medicinal mushroom from Chinese medicine. It is said to have numerous healing properties, including immunostimulating and tumour-dissolving effects. It is therefore also relevant for cancer therapy. Unfortunately, its natural growth process is extremely sensitive and difficult to reproduce.

In artificially cultivated Cordycepin cultures, the main substance responsible for the medicinal effect, Cordycepin, is only present in very small quantities, as the fungus is cultivated on plant substrates. For a higher proportion of Cordycepin, the fungus requires insect-based substrates.
My project FUNGINSECT combines the two properties of the bark beetle symbiotic fungus and the entompathogenic fungus in the form of a trapping apparatus. The aim is to create a fertile Cordyceps culture and at the same time a profitable, non-toxic pest control method that has a positive effect on the forest stand. For this purpose, the attractant fungus is cultivated in a container in the lid in the upper part. A sterile filter on the capsule allows air and attractant particles to pass through. At the same time, contamination with the Cordyceps culture is avoided. It is located underneath the model in a glass and can be screwed on and off for cultivation and harvesting. Here, the attracted bark beetles are trapped and digested by the entompathogenic fungus. For use, the system can be fastened to a suitable place in the forest or garden with tensioning straps and is thus protected from stormy weather.