Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 400 described species. All Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, mainly oninsects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi. The best known species of the genus isCordyceps sinensis,[1] first recorded as yartsa gunbu in Tibet in the 15th Century.[2] It is known as yartsa gumba in Nepal. The Latin etymology describes cord as clubceps as head, and sinensis as ChineseCordyceps sinensis, known in English commonly as caterpillar fungus, is considered amedicinal mushroom in oriental medicines, such as Traditional Chinese medicines[3] and Traditional Tibetan medicine.

When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruiting body (stroma) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The stroma bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia contain the asci. These in turn contain the thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably ineffective.

Some Cordyceps species are able to affect the behavior of their insect host: Cordyceps unilateralis causes ants to climb a plant and attach there before they die. This ensures the parasite’s environment is at an optimal temperature and humidity and maximal distribution of the spores from the fruiting body that sprouts out of the dead insect is achieved.[4]Marks have been found on fossilised leaves which suggest this ability to modify the host’s behaviour evolved more than 48 million years ago.[5]

The genus has a worldwide distribution and most of the approximately 400 species[6] have been described from Asia (notably NepalChinaJapanKoreaand Thailand). Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests.

The genus has many anamorphs (asexual states), of which Beauveria (possibly including Beauveria bassianaMetarhizium, and Isaria) are the better known, since these have been used in biological control of insectpests.

Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties,[7]like cordycepin; the anamorph ofCordyceps subsessilis (Tolypocladium inflatum) was the source of ciclosporin—a drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it suppresses the immune system (Immunosuppressive drug).[8]


{Information courtesy Wikipedia}