Mycopesticides with Mark Goettel
There are many ecosystems where fungi act as an effective bio-insecticide. When conditions are right, these species of fungi infect their insect hosts which allow them to propagate and in some cases significantly reduce populations of their target hosts. Applications of these fungi are being explored in agriculture, pest management and ecosystem conservation. Today we are joined by a leading researcher in mycopesticide development and insect pathologist, Dr. Mark Goettel.
Mark Goettel is an Insect Pathologist recently retired from the Lethbridge Research Centre of Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada.Ê He obtained his BSc from Concordia University, Montreal in Biology, in 1975; MSc from the University of Ottawa in Insect Ecophysiology, in 1977. He then spent 3 years in the Fiji Islands studying the Biocontrol of Mosquitoes under Canadian International Development Agency Fellowship/United Nations Volunteer/World Health Organization funding. He then obtained his PhD in 1997 from the University of Alberta.Ê His dissertation research was on Microbial Control of Mosquitoes. Following this he undertook a Post-Doc at the Insect Pathology Resource Centre, Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University in New York.Ê He returned to Canada in 1988 to join the Lethbridge Research Centre as an Insect Pathologist until his retirement in 2012.Ê Since retirement he continued his position as Editor-in-Chief of Biocontrol Science and Technology until 2017. He also provided workshops on preparation of scientific manuscripts for publication in peer reviewed journals in China and elsewhere. He also presented hands-on science workshops in elementary schools throughout Southern Alberta under the Scientists in School program. He is presently a Jinshan Scholar at the Institute of Applied Ecology at the Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University in Fuzhou, China.
Show notes: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1nEG-cUute8se0VrDBrAIommyxvj2Q1Zh?usp=sharing
Alex Dorr 0:19
Welcome, welcome mushroom family to another episode of mushroom revival podcast. This is a podcast dedicated to bridging the gap between you our lovely, beautiful, incredible listeners and this spectacular world of mushrooms and fungi. So we are unbelievably obsessed with the healing power of mushrooms. And we bring on guests and researchers and experts from all around the globe to geek out with us and go on an adventure into the wacky world of mushrooms. So thank you for tagging along and geeking out with us and being part of our mushroom family. So let’s get into it.
Lera Niemackl 0:58
Today we have Mark Goettel, who I discovered on the front page of the “Ecology of Fungal Entomopathogens”, which is a niche topic that Alex and I both love, and we’re super excited to talk to one of the few experts in the field on mycopesticides. So Mark, you’ve contributed to over 100 papers, you’re in a Springer book, you’ve been to many seminars. How did you get into this science? And what’s your background?
Mark Goettel 1:27
Well, I was doing my Bachelors of Science and Concordia University in Montreal. And two of the professors that really inspired me one was Paul Albert, who was a first year teacher University profit his first year was teaching entomology. And he really inspired me because he was really into it. And my second prop was Paul Witten, who was the mycologist. So I took a microbiology course and I took the entomology course. And those two subjects really inspired me. So after that, I did a Masters of Science degree at University of Ottawa. And I looked at the insect eco physiology of the banded woolly bear and how it went into deposit and winter, nothing to do with pathogens. And then after that, my wife and I, we won a fellowship from the Canadian government, and worked with World Health Organization and the UNDP and went down to the Fiji Islands, to study mosquitoes and bio control of mosquitoes. This is where we met cyniclomyces, an aquatic fungus that killed the that was a pathogen of mosquitoes, and Lagenidium and Coelomomyces, and that really got us more going to mycology. And after that, I got a scholarship from the Canadian government to do my PhD at the University of Alberta. And that’s where again, I did a lot of work. That’s my subject was field studies on mosquitoes in Alberta. And again, I encountered fungi and found a fungus that had only been found before in Australia and South of Southern USA. So that’s really sort of got me into that. And then I did a postdoc at Cornell University at the Boyce Thompson Institute, and insect pathology. And I was very lucky then to get a job. Here in Lethbridge at the Lethbridge Research Center of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. And that job was to save the leaf cutting bees— save the good guys from pathogen ask a spear aggregator that was moving up from the US into Canada.
Lera Niemackl 3:45
Very cool. Did you know that there were entomopathogenic fungi before you went to Fiji and to study the mosquitoes?
Mark Goettel 3:54
Ah, yes, well, I think we taking mycology course etc. We know about how fungi can be pathogens of humans and pathogens of insects, but really didn’t dwell too much into microbial control or bio control.
Alex Dorr 4:11
So I know a lot of our listeners are pretty new to the world of mushrooms and maybe a few words are going over there or over people’s heads. Let’s let’s break it down. So we can meet everyone where they’re at. And I think the first buzzword that we will probably say over and over again is entomopathogenic fungi. You know, that’s a tongue twister. It’s, I’m sure a lot of people their heads are twirling— what the hell is an entomopathogenic fungi also called, you know, anthropod-pathogenic fungi, or many different names. What is that?
Mark Goettel 4:46
Yeah, that’s the problem. When you speak with scientists, you know, we have our jargon. Okay, entomopathogen. Ento = entomology is a study of insects. Of course, pathogen is anything that causes a disease. So entomopathogenic is something that infects insects. And then fungi. Well, we know what fungi right there a whole class of organisms that, are there fungi, and called fungi. So, entopathogenic fungi are fungi that will infect and kill insects.
Alex Dorr 5:20
Have you focused on specific kinds of fungi? Or, you know, you brought up mosquitoes a lot? Do you have any specific insects that really draw your attention that you think could be really important in this field?
Mark Goettel 5:34
Well, definitely mosquitoes has been a huge resurgence and research in mosquitoes because of the new viruses, the Zika virus and all kinds of and of course, malaria. But I moved away from that. And it’s very difficult to apply a fungus at such huge scale, that would be required for control of something like mosquitoes. But it’s still very important, I think, to know the role that they play, and natural management of mosquitoes. But I’ve moved away from that and moved into more biopesticides that is use of these fungi to control the bad insects that affect our agriculture. And mostly in greenhouse situations.
Alex Dorr 6:20
Can you define a mycopesticide? And how does this differ from what we currently have on the market? And how long has it been around? Is it, is it brand new? Have people been using it for a while as an in an indigenous practice? Or is it you know, relatively new technology?
Mark Goettel 6:40
Well, before the days of chemical pesticides, then I think entomopathogenic fungi have been used quite a lot, especially in countries like China, Brazil, most of the developing world, because in the past when we didn’t have chemicals, but then again, even when chemicals came, they were usually too expensive. So people learned how to use them quite a while ago. And only recently have they started coming into use in more of the developed world where we have been so used to using chemicals. And one of the reasons we haven’t is because the chemicals are so easy pesticides NABP came in, it was such a great product, you know, the farmers to put it out and their pest solutions be the best will be gone. And so. So there’s less interest in using bio control, including pathogen.
Lera Niemackl 7:37
So the most common fungi that are used in mycopesticides are beauveria bassiana, and metarhizium anisopliae. These are two different species of fungi that, if you google mycopesticides, and you see some insects, some poor insects, that’s fully myceliated it’s probably from one of these two. And I believe those are both anamorph. Correct. So they’re the asexual form of the fungus. Yeah, I’m just interested in the mycology of that. And why is the anamorph the most productive pathogen? And could the teleomorph, or the sexual one, do the same damage to a bug?
Mark Goettel 8:23
Yeah, that’s a very interesting question. Because up till recently, we didn’t realize these were just animorphs. And they were given species names. And they were considered a single species. And with molecular biology, actually recently, beauveria bassiana now is really various about 12 different species. And metarhizium is also divided into about seven. So what we used to think was one species was, are actually different species. So that’s why when you look at the literature, you’ll see, wow, beauveria bassiana, wow, it infects up to 700 species of insects, but actually, it’s not just that one species. So that’s, that’s one thing. So that’s one of the reasons is that we did not know that they had the teleomorph — the sexual stage. So that’s one of the great discoveries and what molecular biology has allowed us to do when you’re looking at the genes of course, the teleomorph, the anamorph have the same genetic material. So with molecular techniques, now we can find out what is the sexual stage of the anamorph. And so therefore, this has caused a huge sort of controversy or problem in taxonomy because now you have one organism that has two species name beauveria bassiana, has actually now cordyceps bassiana, or different names. So now, why were these anamorphs used? Because that is the stage that you see that is affecting the insect. And then when we would see the cordyceps coming out, it was it was kind of it’s kind of strange. That these cordyceps usually occur more in the tropics, even though we have beauveria bassiana killing insects here in North America. Very rarely do you see the teleomorph. And so, and then the other thing about the cordyceps do it’s highly valued as a biological medicine in China. So, you, I think you’ve probably seen pictures of these people out in the field, collecting hundreds and hundreds of caterpillars that are showing the cord—, the teleomorph— off the cordyceps. So this is basically why we were concentrating always on the anamorph.
Alex Dorr 10:41
I actually have a beauveria bassiana and metarhizium anisopliae here, growing on grain jars, or, rye berries. And I think they’re those species. That’s that’s what the seller indicated. But it could be a different species. They didn’t do DNA analysis on them. But I, we have cockroaches in our house. And it’s the first time I’ve lived in a house with cockroaches. So I was hoping to find a live one and drop it in here kind of a dark activity. But you know, if it worked, that would be great to read our cockroaches, the other alternative would be using chemicals, and I don’t want to use chemicals. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why this is so big, is because we can replace chemical pesticides in our environment, they get into the waterways, they not only affects the specific pests that we’re targeting, but they affect other species, not only other insects, but other animals and come back to us. And we’re now finding that, you know, some of the chemical fertilizers and insecticides can be passed through mother’s breast milk, which is surprising. And so we need better ways to control specific pests that are pest specific as well. And and they’re not just this, this overall toxin that affects some of the good beneficial insects as well and other animals in the soil and ourselves our own our own microbiome that makes us healthy, immune stable human beings. So I have yet to see a living cockroach since I had these jars, but I’m counting down the days and looking around and we’re we’re super excited. For for that twisted activity to happen.
Lera Niemackl 12:41
It’s good time of year.
Mark Goettel 12:42
Is your strongest sporulating in the jars? Is the metarhizium a green jar? A blueish green and the beauveria should be a whitish or creamy white?
Alex Dorr 12:51
It has not sporulated yet it’s in the beginning stages.
Lera Niemackl 12:55
It’s about a week old, I think.
Alex Dorr 12:57
Yeah, and I still have some in kind of a liquid culture syringe. So what I’ve seen a lot on online on YouTube is inoculating Petri plates, letting it sporulate, and then scraping off some of those spores, putting it in a water solution. And it’s like a spray that you can spray on your leaves if you’re a farmer. And the the pest will come on the leaf and get infected. And the life cycle continues. How have you seen it on an industrial scale? And what what is kind of the best practice of creating a mycoinsecticide?
Mark Goettel 13:37
Well, one of the big problems was exactly this mass production, it’s very easy to grow it in a petri plate, but you need tons if you’re going to be selling it. Yeah, tons really. So there’s a company Mycotech in Butte, Montana that discovered they sporulate basically best in an aerial atmosphere. So on a petri plate, but to get to increase the surface area, they found some kind of a starch granule that had a lot of pores in it. So you’d get a lot of sporulation. So I had these big fermenters that were like several cubic feet, or cubic meters. And they would fill that with this very porous material and inoculate with the liquid culture and have this sporulate. So they produced a product called Mycotrol. And that’s become a great one. Now with these fungi, there’s two types of spores, they produce. Airly they’ll produce produce what we call condia. And these condia are quite resistant to environmental factors, they they can persist for quite a long time. Now within an insect, when they get into the insect, they produce another type of spore, which is called a blastospore. It’s just like little bits of hyphae. And they circulate inside the insect and those are much more more easily produced because we can produce them the same way we produce beer or wine in these huge liquid fermenters. But the problem with this was that they don’t persist as long. But there are also products that are sold with these blastospores PFR-94, I believe it’s called, produced by Certis. Its PFR-97 . Sorry, by Certis in the USA, that is based on these hyphal bodies. So there’s two ways of producing these products that you can let you can use.
Alex Dorr 15:39
So I heard there’s been 171, fungal insecticides produced since 1960, that number probably has come up since I’ve gotten that statistic. And about 33.9% are the two species that we’ve been talking about the beauveria bassiana and the metarhizium anisopliae and I went to the Cordyceps Museum in China, and unbelievable incredible to see the the incredible biodiversity of entomopathogenic fungi and all the different types of insects that the they infect, all the different ones that we can cultivate all the mice and human trials that have been done for medicinal purposes. But there is a there’s a section on mycopesticides. And they talked about in the in the beginning during the 1960s. And most of the trials were done in Brazil. And I’m curious, where is this blowing up? Is it still based in Brazil? Is it all around the world? Now? Where is this really being used? You talked about the PFR 97? That’s a US company? Where is this really taking off and having the most effect?
Mark Goettel 16:59
Well, Brazil was a good one, it’s because they have the spittle bug in their sugar plantations. And it was a big problem. And they were able to start at a cottage industry level. So farmers would get together rent a barn or some something, they started growing them and actually jars with rice. And so it was really what we’d call a cottage type industry. And they could put that out with with very little regulatory oversight. Now one of our biggest problems and the biggest impediment to these bio insecticides in the developed world was that we have regulatory oversight. The pest control products act, both in the US and in Canada, really forbids anyone to use anything unless it’s registered. So even like with your cockroach trial, they’re Strictly speaking, if you started spreading this beauveria around your house to kill the cockroaches, this would be not legal, because it is not a registered product. So when the first bio pesticides were being developed, went to the regulatory process. Unfortunately, these were all people that were used with chemicals, they were the ones that were registering chemical pesticides, so and the regulations were tailored to chemicals. So we had ridiculous things like what is the melting point of your bio pesticide? What is the Flashpoint? You know, things that were important for chemicals to know about chemicals. And so it took a long time for these regulatory agencies to adapt themselves to realize these are living organisms. And you cannot do the same tests or the same test make no sense when it comes to living organisms. The other one is a bit of a patho-phobia type thing like you know, these are, these are germs these are, you know, if you had fungal like you had, you know, athlete’s foot and they said that was a fungal disease of your, you know, your toes and your feet. Right away, you think, Oh my gosh, I’m not going to be spreading fungi around. So slowly, but surely, and with pressure, these regulatory agencies, the EPA, and the US, the Health Canada and Canada and Canada, they started working together. And finally, products are being registered. Now, one of the other problems is that some of these fungi, most of these like beauveria, they can produce toxins. Now, if you take these toxins, and you look at the mammalian toxicity, yes, that they have some toxicity, but you have to realize that this toxicity only comes out when the fungus is inside the insect to kill the insect. It’s not produced when it is in other situations. So it’s taking time. And so finally, we are now seeing more and more of these products coming into use within, within the developing developed world.
Alex Dorr 20:04
One story which has been floating around the myco-community, which is surprise me and it’s a little bit of a conspiracy theory but Novazymes, they develop this strain called MET-52, which I actually got a hold of this strain. And it was produced to really target varroa mites and ticks. Ticks carry Lyme disease. Varroa mites are, you know, one of the factors affecting colony collapse disorder in bees. And Monsanto, now Bayer bought this a few years ago, and I haven’t seen anything come out. And it’s interesting because, you know, they have a lot of products that are the chemical versions of this. And I can see one motive being to to keep this from coming to market and kind of buying it out. So nobody else can can do anything with this. Is that have you seen that play happen a lot in this industry of these chemical insecticide companies just, you know, preventing these bio versions from entering the market mainstream?
Mark Goettel 21:17
Yeah, I don’t think they really want to do that. I think they want to look green. But the big problem is that when they buy something like that, and they look at the bottom line, you know, they’ll say, we have to have such amount of money that is being made has to be worth so much investment to pay back. And I know this happened with Ciba-Geigy for instance, they had like, five years, they had a project with bio control people for five years, and after five years, they came up with products, but they just didn’t fit their fiscal model. In other words, they want to know that, you know, for every dollar we invest, we got to get $2 back. And so it doesn’t really fit the mass, you know, production, the big companies, they can’t be bothered with, things like that. So I think this is a bigger problem. I don’t see them competing that much with their chemicals. But, you know, so it’s hard to tell. But I do see also I, I forget the names of the companies, but there was a product Vertimec , for instance, or that was used against aphids in greenhouses. And I think it was very, I don’t remember, and it was bought up by a bigger company. But this smaller company had several products, and the bigger company bought them for that one specific product and the marketing strategy. And they weren’t interested in the other. So they just, these weren’t really money making products. So they just took them off. And the problem is they hold the the patent, they hold the registration, and nobody else can use them. So this is very similar as happens with everything. There’s little startup companies, as soon as they start showing that there’s, you know, that there’s some possibility for mass, you know, better profits, then the bigger companies come in and take over
Lera Niemackl 23:06
Yeah, we pulled a statistic that 1% of the insecticide industry is bio insecticide. And then within that 1% point, .02 is myco-based or fungal based. So that’s interesting. I feel like there’s a lot of potential here but I can see the issues with dealing with a living organism is there’s so much like environmental conditions that you have to get right. And I kind of want to revisit the term mycopesticides so we’ve we’ve been talking about like the filamentous fungus actually parasitizing the insect but could does that term also account for maybe harvesting mycotoxins so not the fungus itself, but the actual compounds that it’s making? Is that at all applicable and yeah, what other ways are mushrooms being manufactured to be an insect or a mycoinsecticide?
Mark Goettel 24:06
There have been some studies to show how you could use some of these metabolites as we call them, the produced by the fungi. But then when you look at the regulatory situation, it’s proven to be not feasible to even pursue that. Especially a lot of plants, metabolites or plant extracts can be used as pesticides, but to to register one of these costs millions of dollars, all the mammalian toxicity etc. So it is something that industry is not pursuing at this time. It costs millions of dollars to register a new chemical. And these chemicals are regionally broad spectrum so there’s lots of potential for return. But if you’re going to be using a specific chemical from one plant or from from a fungus that will maybe affect only a very small market. It’s just not feasible to go through that, to put that money forward to register something.
Lera Niemackl 25:08
So aside from being biobased, which is a huge plus with mycoinsecticides, what are the other cases that you make for its worthiness of research and development and application?
Mark Goettel 25:20
Well, let’s see, the thing I think what we have to do is, is convince farmers and whatever that this is the way to go. And I think the place where the biggest use of these is organic, farming organic places, because you cannot use a chemical. And even even with the bio pesticides, they would contain things like maybe mineral oil, or some kind of have in the formulation, and the organic industry is very strict, it has to be something organic. So you can’t use a mineral, you’d have to use an oil that came from an organically produced, crop, etc. But the thing is, I think that the farmers have been so used to something that is used like build, spray their field, and the next morning, they want to go in there, and they want to see every insect dead. And this is a very, it’s from the farmers point of view, he’s the best, it’s he or she has invested so much money, and they want to make sure that product works. With these mycopesticides, it’ll take up to a week, for instance, before the insects are dying. And during that time, as the fungus is growing in the insect, the insect stops feeding as much, so there’s less damage, usually. And the other aspect you have to look at, if you’re looking at the ecology, these insects are still available for the birds for the spiders for the predators to eat. So you’re not giving that knockout blow in the ecology that really disrupts everything, the birds no longer have anything to eat the bread, spiders die from starvation, etc. So we have to start looking and thinking farming more ecologically. And also the fact that, you know, maybe the farmer has to realize that maybe, you know, if you look he or she loses 10 or 15% of the crop, that’s the natural way to do it. Right now everyone’s going in for I want 100% of my crop. I want everything to be perfect, which is ecologically not very, very compatible. So I don’t know if I really answered your question. Your question was more like, what where do you think we should go with these pesticides?
Lera Niemackl 27:37
I think that that’s a really great point is that it’s for organic application. And it does probably take a paradigm shift in our ideas of agriculture in order to like really integrate it. But it’s it’s effective. And a one big plus to mycopesticides is that you can do a species specific target, which is also interesting, because assuming that most of these mycopesticides are made from beauveria and metarhizium, it seems like those will in fact, almost anything like especially the lepidopteran order of insects, and beyond. How, how do you work with priming a fungus to target one specific insect if it shares an ecology with something that’s close enough in the taxonomic tree, but you don’t want to collapse that particular colony?
Mark Goettel 28:32
See, the funny thing is that the opposite that is that when a company wants to register a pesticide or bio pesticide or a mycopesticide, or entomopathogenic, fungus, they they want like to have something that will be used more broad spectrum, because they are going to spend so much money. And they if you just register something against one pest, and you know how pests come and go, all of a sudden that mist is no longer a problem that year you have your product is you can sell it. So actually they try and make sure that that product targets several of the major pests. Now, to prime it that’s one thing we learned is that in the lab when we added growing on our petri plates, and then we just subcultured subculture and subculture and all of a sudden it would be losing its virulence, its pathogenicity would no longer be as virulent. So we would pass it through an insect and it’s quite the usually takes, you know, several passages on artificial media before it loses its virulence. But then when you pass it through the insect, you prime it and it it retains or recovers its virulence. So, we I, most of these fungi, like the beauvaeria and metarhizium have a broader host range. There are some in the Entomophthorales pathogens, which we haven’t talked about, it’s a complete different area. They are very specific to very to certain insects. For instance, Pandora Neoaphidis only effects, aphids, and Entomophaga grylli only will infect grasshoppers and locusts orthopteran. So those are completely different kettle of fish. And those have not been looked at to commercialize. Because, again, they’re so specific, and they are more difficult to mass produce, they are very much attuned to the environment. For instance, Pandora Neoaphidis will only this one of these fungi where the aphid when it’s infected will go up to the top or the grasshopper will go up to the top of the plant, and then shower the spores down below at the other grasshoppers. And so when it gets infected, it starts going up towards the light. And so it’s very, very, the the ecology of it is very much attuned to its health.
Alex Dorr 31:06
I was reading a couple really entertaining funny papers on locust infection. And there’s a phenomenon that happens called terminal investment where these locusts know they’re infected, and know they’re about to die. And they actually will try to mate more even, you know, knowing they’re infected, and it’s just like this biological takeover of “I’m about to die, I need to meet with as many people as pos- or many locusts as possible.” And obviously makes the problem worse. And they even study that that male locusts that were infected didn’t care the about the other sex of the locust that they were baiting with, and they would mate with male locusts female locusts, it didn’t matter, that it’s just like this biological trigger would come over, that I’m about to die, let me you know, try to pass as as much of my DNA is possible around, so its really funny that it and here’s the thing, most people when they hear cordyceps, and that’s, you know, everyone’s word for entomopathogenic fungi in total is just cordyceps. And most people say, Oh, well, it, it brainwashes these insects and makes them zombies and controls their minds. I’m curious, because you you said talking about the, the, you know, potent site potency of the this fungi to increase it to pass through the insect again, what is actually happening? When the, the, these fungi attack these insects, you know, I’m sure it’s different strain to strain. But is there a general kind of happening that occurs in these insects?
Mark Goettel 33:06
Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of fungi is that they are very one of the very few pathogens that will affect for the exterior of the body. The viruses have to be ingested, bacteria have to be ingested, they will infect through the gut. But the insect produces, the fungus produces a spore that lands on the insect. And that was always the key. How will that spore land on the insect we just talked about Entomophaga grylli, which showers the spores onto the insects with beauveria, or some of them are [inaudible] that can blow in the wind. And so once the spore lands on the cuticle, which is the external body of the insect, there’s a waxy layer, it will release some enzymes that will dissolve some of that, and then it will its release enzymes that will allow it to form a penetrant peg, and that peg will grow into the insect and once it’s inside the insect, it will then produce these blastospores, it’ll start producing many, many of these tiny little floating hyphae that float around the insect and float within the hemocoel the inside of the insect, the blood part. And then finally, once the insect gets what we call mummified, they just can’t, they can’t function anymore. The fungus will produce more enzymes and come out of the insect penetrate out and then produce the spores on the surface. And these spores will then be disseminated.
Lera Niemackl 34:39
I think I read that cordyceps unilateralis which is sort of the textbook cordyceps that’s being shown in the BBC Planet Earth and yeah, it’s kind of the the superstar for the cordyceps genera. It would start off as yeast like and then once it penetrated the cuticle, it would turn around to filamentous or the other way around, I don’t remember. How common is this in some of pathogenic fungi?
Mark Goettel 35:07
Well, yeah, it’s the yeast like one is the blastospores there’s talking about like, so inside. You can imagine that if you’re going to be inside a huge barrel of blood, which is basically the insect hemocoel is just like a, it’s a floating. We don’t they don’t have the blood vessels like we do. So it’s just, it’s all liquid inside. And if you were a fungus, and you had to have the mycelium grow everywhere, it’s much easier just to make up these little yeast like bodies that then float around in the blood, but and then and then those each, each of these little blastospores actually starts growing immediately, like mycelium. So then it grows everywhere. It’s spread over words. It’s like little root hairs.
Lera Niemackl 35:51
And how many fungi can change their, their cell structure in this way? Is it just unique to any entomopathogenic fungi? It just seems so cool that they could do this.
Mark Goettel 36:03
Well, yeah, I guess it’s—it’s mostly known, I think, in animal pathogens, because again, of the unique nature of inside the hemocoel, whereas, you know, fungi that grow like, I know, the bread yeast or the you know, fungus that grows the penicillin or grows on your moldy bread, etc, would not need that. And it would you know, where would you have it? So you have, I think it’s probably unique to liquid habitats where something is muted, rich and liquid, while like I think probably Yeah, like if you’re having yeast in fermenting for beer or whatever, they just grow and they bud, basically this blastospore is almost the same as yeast, yeast will grow and then break apart and just bud them break apart. So this is basically what’s happening inside the hemocoel of the insect.
Alex Dorr 36:54
Now entomopathogenic fungi has another name, and that is arthropod pathogenic fungi. Now, an arthropod is not only insects that we think of it also includes spiders and crustaceans. Now, crustaceans also include crabs, lobsters, crayfish, krill, shrimp, barnacles, is this affecting sea life as well?
Mark Goettel 37:28
Well, there are certainly different species of fungi that do infect these. I don’t think that there’s been any Well, the ones that effect like beauveria in that region. Yes, they can infect spiders, and there have been different species. But as far as the higher order, crustaceans, the lobsters and crayfish and mussels and stuff, I don’t think there’s been any record of and entomopathogenic. And you know, we call them entomopathogenic, but you’re right, it’s not just insects, arthropods, like the arachnids and stuff like that, and the ticks and whenever, but when you bring this up, though, there’s quite a lot of research looking at how can we use some fungi to control some of these arthropods that are pests, and for instance, now there’s a huge effort to try and control the zebra mussels. As you know, the zebra mussel is invasive and clogging up sewer lines—or all kinds of water intakes and our irrigation systems. And so there are scientists looking at maybe there is a fungus or virus or some kind of a disease that we can use to control these. So this fungi will, I mean, there’s fungi that will infect just about every living organism, including ourselves. We can have fungal diseases. ringworm is a fungus and athlete’s foot is a fungus and but
Lera Niemackl 38:53
And dandruff. Dandruff is also a fungus.
Alex Dorr 38:56
That’s nuts. I was reading about oomycota, which is not, I guess not a not fungi anymore. And there are specific spores that have tails, flagella, right, is that how you pronounce it? And they swim and they swim around in the ocean. And they’ll attack fish. And tardigrades, they’ll actually kill tardigrades, which I thought were invincible. I thought were just, you know,
Lera Niemackl 39:32
They can survive boiling alcohol.
Alex Dorr 39:34
Anything lava though, you know, and they’re animals, which is also nuts. Yeah, tardigrades are nuts. I and they look incredible, but that’s an instance where fungi are attacking animals and we’re just talking about ring worms and things like that. Going to the ecology of these entomopathogenic fungi I also read a lot of papers of these fungi jumping kingdoms and one you know example would be Tolypocladium ophioglossoides which, which attacks a kind of false truffle a deer truffle and it used to way back in the day attack insects but it it jumps to start parasitizing other fungi and you know ophiocordycesp sinensis the the caterpillar fungi in Tibet, spend some of its life as an endophyte, or mycorrhizal fungi living in symbiosis with plants. And so we see this jumping around have different interactions with different organisms and even different kingdoms in which fungi attack and so there’s this we did a whole podcast episode on this there’s this video game called The Last of Us and many gamers out there it’s all about how some group genetically engineered this cordyceps fungi to attack humans and this is like the new COVID 2.0. And and we see you know, these fungi can jump kingdoms and are able to maybe attack anamalia, should we be worried that an evil scientist is out there working on, you know, a new way of bio-myco-terrorism?
Mark Goettel 41:30
Well, you know, this is all part of evolution, right? I mean, everything is trying to take advantage or, you know, mutating and taking advantage of resources that are out there. So is it jumping? Or did it jump the other way? And that’s when like, I think, for instance, these entomopathogenic fungi, just in the last 20 or 15-20 years, the biggest discovery has been that, actually, they are endophytes. They’ve been in plants for a long time. And you know, we were just preoccupied with them as entomopathogens looking at their ability to kill insects. And now we’re finding that those plants that have the endophytes actually protect the plant from the insect and and did the endophyte, then jump into the insect? Or was it the insect, you know, the pathogen that is specifically a pathogen jump into the plant. So there’s some tremendous things that we’ve been finding in the last few years. And one of the very interesting one is also not just the fact like you talked about jumping the lecanicillium lecaniii for a long time, it’s been shown that it would kill whiteflies and aphids. And now they’ve been showing that it can also jump in and infect powdery mildew. So we did some experiments where we showed that we could spray the lecanicillium lecanii, onto cucumbers that are infected by aphids and powdery mildew. And you can kill two birds with one stone, it will kill the aphids as well as it will kill the powdery mildew. The other great thing that we’re finding out is that some of these fungi like metarhizium mostly are rhizosphere competent, they react interact between the root hairs of the plants and the soil. And some studies have shown that some insects that are killed by the metarhizium. The metarhizium mycelia that emerges from the dead insect grows towards the roots and releases nitrogen to the roots to the plant. And then the plant in return releases sugars so that the fungus uses the carbon. So there looks like this kind of a symbiotic relationship. I’ll give you this and you give me that and, a lot of discoveries being made that you know, in the past, we just thought that these were just killing insects, but they have a role to play in ecology.
Alex Dorr 44:05
Right. And we talked extensively about this, we had a ecology of psilocybin episode where we talked about fungi’s role of extruding the molecule psilocybin to control insects, and that was kind of the main reason it came about in the first place. And looking at evolution, we see you know, the creation of our soil on terrestrial land, was, in part made by one fungi, extruding enzymes and breaking down this rock and then early terrestrial plants and the the symbiosis of mycorrhizal fungi digging down into this rocky terrain and kind of breaking up, even more this rocky environment. But it was also insects, you know, burrowing underneath the, the soil. And I think I mean, it’s just an hypothesis that, during some of the mass extinctions, where these insects getting food? Well, you know the roots of these plants, or other insects and even without a mass extinction. How are these fungi protecting themselves against these insects nibbling at the roots? Well, they say, Well, hey, I we have this great relationship me and me and this fungi, how about you be the bouncer and and learn to eat that nibbling at my roots and and there we get entopathogenic fungi maybe? I’m not sure it’s just kind of a hypothesis that makes for a fun story. But and then and then there’s psilocybin, you know, producing these wild compounds that make the insects less hungry and makes them desire wood less as a food source. So then, you know us the stumbling apes come out and see insects acting all weird and we’re eating ants as as chimpanzees. And maybe, maybe who knows that’s that’s how we got introduced to fungi that that make us trip out potentially and and, and the cycle goes on of us having a symbiotic relationship now of using these fungi to protect our crops now that we’re not hunters and gatherers anymore and we have modern agriculture and we can ally once again.
Mark Goettel 46:46
I can see the people looking around for fermenting fruit and eating that because that was the source of alcohol. You know, the first first alcohol was is coming up from for fermenting food. So yeah, so then we’ve learned how to harvest that and that’s become a big industry. But to get back to your flagella, your oomycetes. So when I was in Fiji, we did study Coelomomyces, just a very interesting fungus that infects mosquitoes and for the longest time they tried to grow it, they tried to do whatever they could to mass produce it. And then they discovered that it really has an alternating host system is the Coelomomyctes, the Coelomomyces, the little flagellated microspores, zoospores, we call them, they have to infect another crustacean, copepod or an ostracod. And then then you’ve got the sexual a sexual system where it’s a sexual in one house then becomes sexual than the other. But then you can never infect one mosquito larva from to the other because the fungus has to go through the copepod or ostracod to come back. So and yes, and they swim around in the flagella that’s very, very cute. And this is where I encountered many tardigrades many of the water bears, because when we’re looking through all this water in Fiji, looking through the mosquitoes, we see these lovely little water bears walking around, just as you said, I just love those. Yeah, they’re really cute, aren’t they.
Lera Niemackl 48:25
Yeah, they are. So back to the relationship of mycopesticides being, or entomopathogenic fungi being mostly endophytes. What percent of these fungi are reportedly endophytic?
Mark Goettel 48:40
Right now, all the research really points to beauveria, that all the different species of well species of beauveria, but even not just the species itself, but it looks like even isolates or pathotypes. You know, even within a species, you might have different attributes. So and then metarhizium seems to be the one that’s mostly associated with the rhizosphere with the roots in the soil. But you know, this, I don’t think there has been that much research done to try and find out how widespread it is outside of the beauveria. Beauveria, there’s been a lot of research, very widespread. Yeah, many, many plants species have been found to have beauveria bassina identified.
Lera Niemackl 49:24
So at this point, is it safe to assume that all entomopathogenic fungi have another role in the ecosystem that seems to be symbiotic with plants?
Mark Goettel 49:33
It’s hard to say. I don’t know there’s probably not okay. Probably some have been really so specific that they have now become true pathogens of insects, like the Entomophthoralian ones, I wouldn’t think so because they’re so attuned to the insect and the lifecycle of the insect and how to infect the insect. Whereas, and that that’s the reason that they’re very difficult to mass produce because they only are growing under like an insect whereas, beauveria and metarhizium, you can grow it on any substrate almost like you have in your jar, it’s probably would you have rice or oats or –
Alex Dorr 50:14
Mark Goettel 50:16
Alex Dorr 50:17
Mark Goettel 50:17
Rye berries. Okay, so anyway, any starch they’ll grow on. But you cannot do that with these other fungi that are very specific to the insect.
Alex Dorr 50:29
And it sounds like, we don’t know anything. And we’re exploring this deep space, which you coined in your paper, exploring the deep space. And with the rise of molecular biology and DNA sequencing, we from 2001, to 2018, we found 177 new species of cordyceps. And in 2018, we found 40 of those 177. And, and the chart just keeps going up. And you wrote in this paper, you know, how phylo chip and Pyro sequencing and these different DNA sequencing tools, we can use them to really discover the world around us and and how many of these fungi are actually interacting with plant roots, or in the cell walls of plants or have other roles or in the microbiome of humans or anything else? Where were you hopeful? Or with this technology of DNA sequencing molecular biology, where would you like to see this science develop?
Mark Goettel 51:45
Its Yeah, molecular biology has just opened up the world, especially when it comes to microorganisms, you know, before the only way we knew there was microorganism is basically to grow it, and to grow it. And there’s so many species that you cannot grow, but you can find their DNA. So that’s one of the things I look for in an insect rather than, you know, can collect a whole bunch of insects and just do DNA extraction. And if we have the right probes, we would know exactly what’s in that insect without having to grow that fungus, etc. So that’s a huge thing is discovered, we could take a pile of soil, just to extract DNA from there, and we can see things in there that we didn’t even know existed there, because they would not be otherwise seeing bacteria on this. So there’s so many discoveries of releasing. So that’s one huge area that molecular biology is helping us. It’s helping us to find what’s there and where and when. The other one, of course, is with with engineering is that now we can look and then we can look at the fungus who gets it Oh, yeah, it has the gene that will produce a toxin that we don’t want, and we can knock it out. Or again, we can put genes in there that will help the fungus or help registration for instance, the metarhizium anisopliae, when it was not going to be registered. The one of the big concerns, of course is to introduce a fungus into a new ecology that has not been and we don’t want it to become a invasive species. So if you were have a pesticide like metarhizium anisoplia and you want to sell it in Europe, they’re gonna say, well, where did you find it? Well, we found it in the States, they’re gonna say, well, we don’t want it in Europe. So one of the ways that molecular biology is done, Rey St.Leger at the University Maryland, was able to do was to when the fungus lands on the insect, it produces an enzyme PR-1 that then helps it to get through into the insect. Once it’s inside, it doesn’t produce much he took that gene and gave multiple copies. So once the fungus went into the insect, and produce so much of this enzyme, the insect gets mummified and dies even before the fungus sporulates. So basically, it’s a lethal that the fungus kills itself and does not allow replication. So this this is one way that maybe we can look at using molecular biology. The other one is, also Rey was putting in a scorpion toxin inside the fungus also. Because as I mentioned before, one of the big problems with fungi is that once they’re applied depending on the temperature etc, it will take between 4 to 12 days before the insect dies. Well, by then the crop is being damaged the farmers worried, “well what if my what if the application is not working? I’m not going to wait till I’ve lost all my crop to find out that this application did not work.” So with our way that we we work we farm now we want to see the future salts sooner than later. So there’s other ways we can use these molecular techniques to help the use of bio pesticides or mycopesticides.
Alex Dorr 55:11
There’s also an example that I heard of spearheaded by Brian Lovett in Burkina Faso. And it’s it’s similar that with the the scorpion venom, but it’s using the Australian Blue Mountain funnel-web spider toxin, and molecularly injecting, I’m not sure how it works, into metarhizium pingshaense— I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that right. But apparently, it’s working on on kind of the small controlled settings. I know a lot of people are expressing a lot of controversy around this of, well, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And what if those mosquitoes bite a person? Do those toxins go into them? And what if they mutate? What’s going to happen on this mass level, and the upside is eradicating malaria, which is huge, and West Nile virus and all these different viruses and diseases. But the cons is kind of up in the air. And it might be this, this fear of fungi that you’re kind of talking about in the beginning of being a little afraid of a living organism, and it’s not as spot on as a chemical that works the same pretty much every single time. There’s a lot of unknowns, there’s a much wider deep space with living organisms. So are you fearful of a Molecular Engineering with these organisms? So you see it as the only way that this can be successful? Have you ever seen it work really well, or on the flip side, go become a disaster?
Mark Goettel 57:02
Well, again, it’s a new technology, and it can be very beneficial. And if it’s used the wrong way, it can be very detrimental. And so it’s, it’s very well controlled. And I know that the work in Burkina Faso, they built a very special area that was containment facility. And, you know, we have to go through the research to find out and it can go one way or the other. But certainly the way things are happening, you know, we need to do something, for instance, that could be much better than Well, first of all, we’ll never eradicate malaria, these things will hopefully put them down. But the other interesting in this aspect is the fact that it’s been shown that metarhizium anisopliae , what it infects a mosquito, the mosquito can no longer transmit the malaria parasite. So even even a non-genetically engineered metarhizium that mosquito that is infected by will not be able to transmit the fungus or the plasmodium.
Alex Dorr 58:09
So now I have a new task with my grain jar is to catch a live mosquito. We we had some reports of West Nile virus in Austin, Texas, which was crazy to me. And I know Tradd Cotter over in I think he’s in North Carolina. He’s doing some research with mosquitoes. I feel like it’s mosquitoes, if not, it’s fungus gnats, and we we were growing cordyceps militaris in our farm in Massachusetts, a beautiful orange cheeto fungus. And we got this strain from someone that was mislabeled. And we started growing this Isaria strain, and we had some fungus gnats flying around and you know anyone who is doing any horticulture indoors, growing plants or mushrooms, you have fungus gnats growing everywhere. And we noticed that all the beans that were growing the isaria mushroom, the fungus gnats were not growing going anywhere near those bins and they would stay far away. When we investigated closer we found some mummified fungus gnats on the side of these bins that were infected by by this area. And I think going back to our conversation about organic farming, I think this is huge for these natural pests that we can find an alternative and not use, you know these chemical written sticky fly traps or you know chemical sprays. I mean there’s zappers that that people use specially in like in commercial kitchens, you know, but this is a cool alternative that obviously needs more research, but has huge potential.
Mark Goettel 1:00:06
There is a product that is used routinely now in mushroom production right against fungus gnats, and that doesn’t come to mind right now, is it a bacterium? Or is it no, it must be a fungus. I can’t recall right off the top of my head.
Alex Dorr 1:00:18
Yeah, there is a commercial Isaria strain. And I found out about it after those experience experiments, and I googled it, and you can buy it off Amazon, which is really cool. And you know, if anyone wants to see, I think they’re called biospheres in Burkina Faso. But you can look it up. There’s a quick kind of elementary video on YouTube. And it’s kind of cool to see and other small scale applications of petri plates, you know, growing the spores and scraping making your own kind of, if you have a small scale farm, how to make your own mycopesticide, which is really cool. And I want to ask you, if there’s any resources that people can look into, if they want to play around with mycopesticides? Is it pretty easy for for a person that has grown mushrooms before? Or?
Mark Goettel 1:01:15
Yeah, it’s pretty easy. But always the concern, especially for the regulatory people is that you will grow something that you think you’re growing, but you’re not. And I know even one of my fellow researchers here was growing something that was metarhizium. And then when the safety people came in and found out that actually he was growing Penicillium and there was spores all over the place. And so you really have to know what you’re doing. And I think it’s the same reason we have all these rules regarding moonshine, and producing your own alcohol. If you you know, and every year, you’ll hear how many people at a wedding died in India, because they drank the moonshine that was actually methanol or, or, you know, not exactly the right, yeah, not ethanol. So you have to know what you’re doing. So it’s the same thing with growing these. If, you know, for instance, if you don’t know what you’re doing, and then you’re spreading around if you spread around your house, your metarhizium to kill your cockroaches, but that’s a fact that could have been black mold, toxic mold, you know, that grew instead, you’d be doing a lot of harm to yourself. So this is why we have regulations. And this is why it’s you know, it’s unless you know exactly what you’re doing people it’s probably best to discourage people from trying to produce their own mycopesticide.
Lera Niemackl 1:02:35
And of course, you can send in specimens for DNA analysis. But do you have any resources where the common person can go to purchase a strain of metarhizium or beauveria and make sure that it is 100% confirmed?
Mark Goettel 1:02:52
Well, I don’t I don’t really know. I guess, again, as they’re pretty well regulated within the country, I think, Well, certainly across borders. It’s very difficult. And especially in the last few years, it’s become so crazy that they know even museums can get leaf cutting ants to bring into their zoos or whatever, because we’ve been right now we’ve had so many invasive species that all of a sudden, our border agencies are much more concerned about invasive species, you know, the Asian Longhorn beetle, wiping out our trees and things like that. So I don’t really I know, you could probably go to Amazon and get things and sent you and like you say, you never know exactly what they are. But it’s like, like, like that with anything. I think you can get all kinds of stuff that have claims, you know, snake oil or whatever. So, so I, you know, I don’t really know.
Alex Dorr 1:03:52
I have a question on the typical practice of mycopesticides. So one book that a lot of people have read if they’re getting into mushrooms is Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets and he’s kind of celebrity on mushrooms gets people really inspired to get into this field. He writes about using a pre sporulating or a delayed sporulating entomopathogenic fungi to kill termites in his house. And he he claims that using the mycelium instead of these spores, which is the general typical product that had been used for many decades. was the key to this application. Has this been used in the past? Or is this, what are your thoughts on this?
Mark Goettel 1:04:49
Yeah, I haven’t read that. But I think what he’s referring to is using these blastospores instead of the conidia. Because those blastospores only occur in nature inside the insect hemocoel. And it’s been shown time and time again that termites are really got a great hygiene, they will clean out their nest of sporulating insects, they will avoid the spores. But I haven’t seen any evidence, but it would make sense that they probably cannot recognize the blastospore itself because it’s something they don’t encounter, because it’s inside the body of the dying insect. But they’ve probably developed a way to realize what the conidia smell like or tastes like or whatever they can sense the conidia.
Alex Dorr 1:05:38
I’ve heard some really interesting defense mechanisms with insects, one would be rapid shedding. So when the the fungi is trying to drill into the exoskeleton, they will quickly shed and remove any, you know, infiltration on their exoskeleton. And other ones would be producing a lot of melanin to as an antifungal agent inside their body and and a few others that it’s this rapid co-evolution of who can out best the other one. And you know, other ones, I’ve heard of these bullet ants or leaf cutter ants, I can’t remember which one will take an infected ant way far away from their nest and dig three graves and bury itself bury themselves alive because the two worker ants are like I’m infected now. And this is like a suicide bombing, so to speak, to save the rest of the colony, so many different defense mechanisms and which is cool is that fungi also evolve as well. And so this is one of the arguments of using this is that a chemical? You know, these organisms can become immune, so to speak, maybe possibly, whereas this fungi co evolves as well, too. If the insects develop a defense mechanism, they develop a better counter attack. So it’s cool to watch all these different steps that they try to outbid each other.
Mark Goettel 1:07:19
That’s all part of the evolution.
Lera Niemackl 1:07:21
Yeah. So can you tell us about your most exciting research that you’ve done in your career or some things that you would like to highlight?
Mark Goettel 1:07:29
I think one of the exciting things that we found was that we were working with a company MycoTech in Bozeman, Montana. And we’re doing some field trials with the beauvaria bassina that we developed that was very good pathogen of grasshoppers. And we even did a trial in Mali and Africa, West Africa against the grasshoppers, they’re hoping to get a locust control. And it would work sometimes and it would not work other times. And it was a big thing that what happened, why is it not working? Then we discovered that we discovered the phenomenon of what we call behavioral fever. It was already shown in Cornell with flies and Entomophthora muscae that flies that were infected would go around the lightbulbs in, in poultry houses and then cure themselves. So we found out that these grasshoppers, when they get infected, they actually will bask in the sun reach and elevate their temperature up to about 32 degrees centigrade, which would be enough to kill the fungus. So it brings it back to you know, when you have a fever, why are we having fever? Well, it’s probably our adaptation to kill the pathogen. The problem of course, humans is it’s a fever gets too high, you start getting brain damage, and that’s why, you know, you’re taking aspirin to put down the fever, but maybe we are rushing and trying to reduce our fevers too quickly. Well, certainly these grasshoppers were able to cure themselves of the fungus by heating themselves up as we call behavioral fever. So the change your behavior so I think that was quite exciting finding that we have that this is happening and now it’s been shown quite a lot. And even the product in Africa that was produced the green muscle it looks like the locusts will do the same but they are not able to really cure themselves of the fungus but it will really elevate the time before they die so it will slow the progress of the of the fungus.
Alex Dorr 1:09:40
What can— I’ve heard there’s a group of fungi they attack insects that will not kill the insect and live their whole entire life cycle with a living insect and sporulate from the live insect and continue on. How common is this? From the look on your face, it didn’t seem like it’s that common. It seems like it’s rare.
Mark Goettel 1:10:04
I’ve never read about it or heard about it. But I, you know, a lot of things have happened since I retired, I retired 10 years ago and haven’t been really, you know, keeping up with the literature. But I’m not aware of such a situation of any fungus that really does that.
Alex Dorr 1:10:22
And maybe a counter attack of the basking in the sun is I’ve heard stories of, you know, these fungi taking control of the muscle, the muscles of the insects, and actually moving their limbs for them. And that that’s what the zombie, you know, insect comes from, and will actually, I’ve heard some researchers say they’ve, they’ve seen ants going up and down a tree and just going up and down and up and down, and then find a spot. And then we’ll go back and forth horizontally. And they hypothesize that this is finding that perfect shade, and humidity levels, which is kind of a counter attack to what you were just saying of, of using more heat and sunlight to kill off the fungi, the fungi are controlling the limbs to make sure it’s the perfect humidity levels. And I’ve also heard that, as they’ll fruit at specific times in the day, particularly like in the morning when it’s dewy, and you have a specific humidity level. And this is also a con for commercialization, because in the hot summer or in the desert climates, this might be a little hard, not hitting the right humidity levels is this where Molecular Engineering comes in of maybe making that humidity margin a lot bigger, so they will kind of sporulate and fruit in more dry environments.
Mark Goettel 1:12:09
So what you’re speaking of is most of these Entomophthoralian fungi, those that are when I speaking when we’re saying about whether they’re very closely adapted to the host. And for instance, entomophthora grylli, when a grasshopper gets infected, it starts going up again. Now, is it going up again to try and have a behavioral fever? Or is it the fungus that’s making it go up somewhere so that it will sporulate and kill the grasshoppers below? And yes, when that grasshopper dies, it’s firmly grasping on the highest part of the twig are like so it does have like a muscle thing and it stops and it dies gripping. So yes, the somehow the fungus is affecting that behavior. And is it the grasshopper trying to escape the fungus? Or is it the fungus making the grasshopper do what it needs to be able to sporulate. Same thing as Pandora Neoaphidis for this with aphids the same thing they will go up towards the light. And then they die. And then the fungus actually will penetrate and have some mycelia that will be we’d like a foothold and will glue, the cadaver onto the plant so that then it can sporulate. And yes, that Pandora Neoaphidis is very much circadian, it will sporulate only during certain part of the day, as you say in the morning when there’s dew because the spores really need high humidity to infect the aphids. And these are natural epizootics that occur like when the Russian wheat aphid was moving up into Canada, it was affecting a lot of wheat. But then right around August, mid August when the nights get cooler, you start getting dew, and when you start getting dew, we have epizootics that would, an epizootic is when there’s a whole bunch of insects that get infected and they would wipe out the the aphid. Whereas these mycopesticides that we have our our the hyphomycet— or the ascomycetes fungi, what they’re doing is in the formulation, for instance, it’s been shown that if you have a formulation that’s in an oil rather than just water, then it spreads more over the insect and then the insect has a microhabitat really you know you can be as dry as it can be in the desert, but the insect itself has humidity around it humidity and it’s different crevices. So if you spray the fungus that’s just been water, the water droplets actually will roll off the insect but if you have them in an oil, the oil is miscible with a waxy layer and the insect gets coated and then you get much better infection.
Lera Niemackl 1:14:59
So, pro tip add some olive oil to your at home illegal mycopesticides.
Alex Dorr 1:15:07
And you’re retired out and you know I’m Is there a type of insects or mycopesticide that you would like to see developed? You know, what would be the coolest research that you would see come out?
Mark Goettel 1:15:22
Well, it would be nice if we could use— and well first of all, I think we’d be nice, we can understand the ecology on its own. And a lot of work is being done with these planting flowers so that it tracks po llinators and predators and things like that. So I think with our monoculture that we’re just, you know, plowing hundreds and hundreds of acres and planting that one plant there, then of course, there’s no way that you could have natural natural ecology. But as far as the mycopathogen site, I hope that, you know, we could move out of the greenhouse and start applying them more in in more larger scale fields, field applications. And, you know, things like to find ways to protect these spores from the sun. And that’s what they’re looking at, sun blockers, or you know, sunscreens because that’s one thing when they’re applied on top of the, on the surface of the plant, then within hours and the sunlight, the UV light will kill the spores. So it’s a big problem there. So all kinds of work in formulation and application.
Lera Niemackl 1:16:32
Yeah, it’s exciting stuff. And it’s nice to see that big industries like Novozymes is taking this seriously and has developed a commercializable product.
Mark Goettel 1:16:44
One of the big problems is that, you know, when there’s a problem, everybody jumped to find a solution. And one of them was a white fly, the Bemisia white fly that came in and was wiping out the melon industry, especially watermelons and cantaloupes and everything at Southern part of the US, and MycoTech came up with a various strain that was really working well. And they were just about to launch the product, and then the neonicotinoids came out. And it was much easier just to put the, you know, dip your seeds in the neonicotinoid and then it just killed the product right there. And who’s done all, you know, that’s like, it’s like with anything, you know, when there’s a need, there’s a there’s a market and all of a sudden that market can disappear overnight if there’s something that replaces or solves the problem in another way, an easier way.
Lera Niemackl 1:17:42
Do you ever see entopathogenic fungi in Canada? I know it’s a bit cold. And these tend to be in more tropical environments. But I’m curious about your own ecology.
Mark Goettel 1:17:51
Yeah, it’s, you know, it’s not so easy to find them. And because very, you know, when they die out in nature, but I did find one Vespula vulgaris, which is our wasp in my back garden that was infected by a beauveria. So that was kind of exciting. My own backyard. Otherwise, yeah, the Pandora Neoaphidis for this I was talking about when it has an epizootic with the wheat fields and all the aphids were affected. But otherwise, no, you don’t come across them very often. You have to really look and that’s a problem is that you know, the insects as soon as they die, they fall to the ground and they disappear. And then they answer another one. You know, like when we did our applications in Mali with beauveria to try and kill the grasshoppers. When we’re reading, looking to try and find dead grasshoppers, all we could see is ants pulling and legs and parts of grasshoppers into their nest. They’re huge predators. They’re they’re really scavengers, they clean the they clean the environment of all these cadavers and things like well, you know, you drop some honey sugar very or something and immediately see ants tearing it apart, bringing it back into their nest.
Alex Dorr 1:19:11
Entopathogenic fungi are have been found on every single continent except Antarctica. And there’s only one insect on Antarctica, which is the Antarctic Midge. And I would love I would hate to go to Antarctica, but I would love to go to Antarctica and find entomopathogenic fungi attacking the Midge. They mostly die from being frozen but would be cool because they’re finding more and more species, especially lichen. But also, you know, a lot of saprophytic fungi as well. They were building all these wooden cabins in Antartica for the researchers and saw that they’re being degraded by fungi. I can’t remember how many species that they found but they can live in the snow, which is incredible, but that is the only continent that we have not found entopathogenic fungi. So if you’re living in an area that is not the Amazon rainforest or any tropical area, you will probably find entopathogenic fungi if you really look.
Lera Niemackl 1:20:19
Youhave a nonzero chance.
Alex Dorr 1:20:21
Nonzero chance. And if you’re tuning in from Antarctica, look, and and definitely reach out if you if you find any.
Mark Goettel 1:20:29
And are they the ones that were there or the ones that we brought?
Alex Dorr 1:20:32
Right. Right, exactly. So we have one final question that we ask all of our guests on our show. And this question is, if mushrooms had the microphone, and could say one thing to the whole human race, what would they say?
Mark Goettel 1:20:52
I wrote that I’m thinking about it. Yeah, it’s the same thing, as you know, people who are terrified of insects, that people are terrified of pathogens, and I would say if I was a fungus, I would say, we are mostly good. Only a few of us are bad. So don’t be afraid of us.
Alex Dorr 1:21:14
Beautiful. So where where can people follow your work? Where can people tune in and shroom in to more entomopathogenic fung data, and stories?
Mark Goettel 1:21:27
Well, you know, all this, I think you probably were Google Scholar. If you go to Google Scholar, and just in your search engine, search, what your favorite is pathogen is, then you’ll see all the latest research that’s being published, of course, it is scientific research. So it’s not necessarily for everyone’s reading, but just read the abstracts, all the abstracts are available for free. Unfortunately, if you want to read the rest of the paper, quite often, you have to pay a little bit more. But if you search around enough, you can usually get that paper for free. I guess that’s the best thing because the popular science, unfortunately, you know, we have very few very good scientific journalists, unfortunately. And a lot of the stuff we read are people that are interpreting science, you know, the cure for this and the cure for that, and coffee does this and that, you know, they’re they’re based on somebody reading a scientific paper, but not necessarily, you know, I mean, getting the right, the right message. So if you really want to see what’s happening, read the peer reviewed scientific literature. And, and then realize also that just because something was found one way, it doesn’t mean that that’s the gospel truth, you have to take it with a grain of salt. That’s what science is. That’s what science is all about. It’s all about looking for things in the dark, and finding things out and trying to piece it all together. And then finally, to make the big discovery at the end.
Alex Dorr 1:23:02
And let us stay infinitely curious while exploring this deep space, that is our universe.
Lera Niemackl 1:23:10
Alex Dorr 1:23:11
So I have a few books here. You know, these are some of my favorites, but I have not gotten all of them. And eventually, in my whole lifetime, I’ll collect everything out there. But this one, which you’re in, you’re the first paper in this book, this was a good one. And this one is one of my favorites. And these are like really heady most, there’s probably one listener out of many that are tuning in that will probably ever enjoy this but this is “Genetics and Molecular Biology of Pathogenic Fungi”. We have “Insect and Fungal Associations”, this is you know, talks about leaf cutter ants and termite farming, mushrooms and all different ones. I really enjoy this book because it goes beyond just insect parasitizing fungi, it goes talks about more of this symbiotic relationship, which is cool. There are a couple of ones by this Egyptian researcher and there’s a little translation gap. So it’s not the most perfect English but it’s cool and it talks about a lot of the kind of field trials of using mycopesticides, which are really cool. And then this one, which is not in English, but it has some really pretty pictures at the end. Yeah, all these different cordyceps and entomopathogenic fungi. I got this use I think on ABE book so it’s pretty cheap and it took I think, a couple months to ship hear from China. But yeah, most of it looks like this. One day I’ll learn Mandarin and and read it, which I’m excited for that day. There’s so much research in China that there’s just that translation gap. I think we’re lacking in countries like, you know, Canada and United States. But yeah, I think they’re leading the way in terms of entomopathogenic fungi research. And so one day will will further bridge that gap. And that will be—
Mark Goettel 1:25:35
That’s a sad thing in the Western world we’re pulling money from research in China, they’re pouring money into research. It’s unbelievable. I’m associated with several universities in China, and it just boggles my mind when I go and see the equipment and the amount of resources that they’re putting into science. It will have a Sputnik moment where, you know, the next decade or so we’re gonna go like, how do we get so far behind?
Alex Dorr 1:26:02
I was just there in in the fall of 2019, for a international medicinal mushroom conference. And that’s how I was very close to the cordyceps Museum, which is right outside Shanghai. And yeah, the amount of research I mean, it’s unbelievable. And the technology, the amount of money, the amount of patents the amount of just, I’m like, I feel like we’re dribbling babies over here in the western in the Western world, or what however you want to classify it, but yeah, one day we’ll hopefully catch up and, and and part of part of it is, is finding ways that we can industrialize it and find solutions to a lot of these problems that are much more green more sustainable. And one of one of these ways is is mycopesticides and finding solutions to Lyme disease carrying ticks or malaria carrying mosquitoes or, you know, aphids that are destroying crops, etc. So I’m excited to see this field develop and, and thank you for coming on the show. Really appreciate it.
Mark Goettel 1:27:19
It was a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. Thanks.
Lera Niemackl 1:27:21
Yeah, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks for listening, much love and may the spores be with you.