It's big, meaty, looks innocuous, grows near-edible mushrooms and smells delicious, but the name reveals its toxicity: the death cap.
Native to Europe, the death cap is now an invasive species on every continent except Antarctica, Cat Adams, a Harvard graduate student, writes in Slate.
The spores spread "like glitter at a kids' glitter party," writes Adams, who is working on a literature review of the mushroom. In the United States, it's adapted to grow on live oak trees and native pines, and has spread along the East and West Coasts and appears to be moving south into Mexico.
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The good news? An ongoing clinical trial may have found an antidote: S. Todd Mitchell of Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz and colleagues have treated more than 60 patients with a drug derived from milk thistle. The patients who have started the drug on time (within 96 hours of ingesting the mushroom) and who have still had kidney function intact have all survived.
"When administered intravenously, the compound sits on and blocks the receptors that bring amatoxin into the liver, thus corralling the amatoxins into the blood stream so the kidneys can expel them faster," Adams wrote. "Only a few patients sought treatment later and did not survive."
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Although Mitchell needs more patients before publishing the research, he says there are virtually no downsides to the drug.
"When we present to FDA, it will be a slam dunk for approval," he told Slate. "The drug has virtually no side effects, it's very well tolerated, and if used correctly it's awesomely effective."
Photo: Amanita phalloides mushrooms, also known as "death caps," are seen in a wooded area near Bordeaux, southwestern France, in this October 26, 2006, file photo. Credit: Regis Duvignau/Corbis