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Fungi means hope, not horror, says WSU student

Closeup of an insect with cordyceps fungi walking across a leaf.
A cordyceps fungi grows on a wingless insect. Cordyceps, contrary to its image in "The Last of Us," is a staple of traditional medicine and could have new and beneficial uses for humans, WSU student and fungi superfan Katy Ayers says. Photo by Luis Espin on iStock

Fungi superfan and Washington State University student Katy Ayers understands why people might be unsettled by the premise of the HBO show and video game “The Last of Us.” 

After all, the thought that mushroom spores could infect humans and turn them into zombies is pretty disturbing. And the tendril kiss that infects a new host? “It’s kind of gross,” she said.    

But Ayers has a different view of the magic of mushrooms. 

“I see hope when I see mushrooms,” she said. 

Katy Ayers

For instance, the cordyceps fungi that’s featured in “The Last of Us” has shown promise in treating cancer. It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many years. 

“If we did ingest cordyceps it would probably benefit us,” Ayers observed. 

Mushrooms are the recyclers of the planet, breaking down organic matter. They provide nutrients to plants. 

For her part, Ayers, a junior bioengineering/biochemistry major, has used fungi to create a working canoe. She’s using it to make biodegradable “bee hotels” that can help prevent diseases and contamination. 

Next she wants to produce writing journals and paper out of fungi. She started a WSU club called the Toadstool Troop that’s eyeing those projects as fundraisers. 

“The vast majority of fungi are helping us in some way,” she concluded. “In terms of ratios, there are more beneficial fungi than scary ones.” 

But about those scary ones… 

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