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Cordyceps militaris
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Fungi
Division: Ascomycota
Class: Sordariomycetes
Order: Hypocreales
Family: Cordycipitaceae
Genus: Cordyceps
Fr. (1818)
Type species
Cordyceps militaris
(L.) Fr. (1818)
List of species
  • Cordyceps acridophila
  • Cordyceps albocitrina
  • Cordyceps amoene -rosea
  • Cordyceps ampullacea
  • Cordyceps bifusispora
  • Cordyceps blackwelliae
  • Cordyceps brasiliensis
  • Cordyceps cateniannulata
  • Cordyceps cateniobliqua
  • Cordyceps chiangdaoensis
  • Cordyceps cicadae
  • Cordyceps coccidioperitheciata
  • Cordyceps coleopterorum
  • Cordyceps confragosa
  • Cordyceps cuncunae
  • Cordyceps cylindrica
  • Cordyceps farinosa
  • Cordyceps fratricida
  • Cordyceps fumosorosea
  • Cordyceps ghanensis
  • Cordyceps grylli
  • Cordyceps guangdongensis
  • Cordyceps gunnii
  • Cordyceps gunnii var. minor
  • Cordyceps henleyae
  • Cordyceps hepialidicola
  • Cordyceps hesleri
  • Cordyceps ignota
  • Cordyceps imagamiana
  • Cordyceps isarioides
  • Cordyceps javanica
  • Cordyceps kirkii
  • Cordyceps koreana
  • Cordyceps kurijimeansis
  • Cordyceps kyushuensis
  • Cordyceps lepidopterorum
  • Cordyceps locusticola
  • Cordyceps locustiphila
  • Cordyceps memorabilis
  • Cordyceps militaris
  • Cordyceps morakotii
  • Cordyceps nakazawai
  • Cordyceps nidus
  • Cordyceps ninchukispora
  • Cordyceps ningxiaensis
  • Cordyceps nirtolii
  • Cordyceps ochraceostromata
  • Cordyceps pleuricapitata
  • Cordyceps polyarthra
  • Cordyceps poprawskii
  • Cordyceps pruinosa
  • Cordyceps pseudonelumboides
  • Cordyceps rosea
  • Cordyceps roseostromata
  • Cordyceps scarabaeucika
  • Cordyceps sinensis See Ophiocordyceps sinensis.
  • Cordyceps spegazzinii
  • Cordyceps sphingum
  • Cordyceps submilitaris
  • Cordyceps taishanensis
  • Cordyceps takaomontana
  • Cordyceps tenuipes
  • Cordyceps unilateralis See Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

Cordyceps /ˈkɔːrdɪsɛps/ is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 600 worldwide species. Diverse variants of cordyceps have had more than 1,500 years of use in Chinese medicine.[2] Most Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, parasitic mainly on insects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi.[3]

The generic name Cordyceps is derived from the ancient Greek κορδύλη kordýlē, meaning "club", and the Latin -ceps, meaning "-headed".[4] The genus has a worldwide distribution, with most of the approximately 600 known species[5] being from Asia (notably Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand).


There are two recognized subgenera:[6]

  • Cordyceps subgen. Cordyceps Fr. 1818[7]
  • Cordyceps subgen. Cordylia Tul. & C. Tul. 1865[8]

Cordyceps sensu stricto are the teleomorphs of a number of anamorphic, entomopathogenic fungus "genera" such as Beauveria (Cordyceps bassiana), Septofusidium, and Lecanicillium.[9]


Cordyceps subgen. Epichloe was at one time a subgenus, but is now regarded as a separate genus, Epichloë.[6]

Cordyceps subgen. Ophiocordyceps was at one time a subgenus defined by morphology. Nuclear DNA sampling done in 2007 shows that members, including "C. sinensis" and "C. unilateralis", as well as some others not placed in the subgenus, were distantly related to most of the remainder of species then placed in Cordyceps (e.g. the type species C. militaris). As a result, it became its own genus, absorbing new members.[9][10]

The 2007 study also peeled off Metacordyceps (anamorph Metarhizium, Pochonia) and Elaphocordyceps. A number of species remain unclearly assigned and provisionally retained in Cordyceps sensu lato.[9]


When Cordyceps attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruit body (ascocarp) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The ascocarp bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia containing asci. These, in turn, contain thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective.[11]

With the example of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the life cycle after the death of the host involves three stages: dead host, stroma, and perithecia. In the dead host stage, the dead insect without any structure growing on its body is observed. In the stroma stage, an elongated stalk called stroma grows from the body of the host. In the perithecia stage, fruiting bodies develop on the stroma. After the perithecia stage, spores are released to the environment to infect other hosts. O. unilateralis go through several cycles in the sequence of dead host, stroma, and perithecia phases.[12]

Cordyceps manipulates host behavior to facilitate the transmission of spores. Examples include nest abandonment of hosts,[12] a phenomenon known as the "death grip," in which the hosts hang under the leaves upside down and clamp themselves onto the leaves with their mandibles,[12] and self-exposure to predators for greater transmission to other hosts.[13]



Polysaccharide components and cordycepin are under basic research and have been isolated from C. militaris.[14] Research has found that cordycepin can ameliorate testicular damage caused by diabetes, by which it regulates the activities of antioxidant enzymes through the Sirt1/Foxo3a pathway.[15] Cordycepin has also been evidenced to abate the pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease with the anti-oxidative stress and autophagy activation.[16] This implication opens up a potential treatment option for neurodegenerative diseases. From another species, Cordyceps gunnii, the extracted polysaccharides have been found to enhance the activities of natural killer cells and cytotoxic T cells in immunodeficient mice, as well as up-regulate the levels of cytokines and immunoglobulins.[17]

In addition, Cordyceps produces mycotoxins, such as alkaloids, peptides, and polyketides, that have been found to have fatal effects on both adults and nymphs of Asian citrus psyllids.[18] Moreover, Cordyceps-induced infection decreases activities of Asian citrus psyllids’ detoxification enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione-S-transferase (GST), and peroxidase (POD). As these enzymes are important in regulating immune functions, the infection in turn suppresses immune activities of Asian citrus psyllids, causing them to succumb to environmental stresses more easily.[19] Discoveries on the effects of Cordyceps on Asian citrus psyllids provide potential solutions to citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing.


Along with Ophiocordyceps, Cordyceps has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine in the belief it can be used to treat diseases.[20] There is no strong scientific evidence for such uses.[14] However, studies have found several effects of Cordyceps on health. For example, Cordyceps has been found to relieve respiratory, renal, cardiovascular, and hepatic problems, with its anti-oxidation, enhancing immunity, and anti-tumor activities.[21] In addition, Chinese herbal formula containing Cordyceps helps with increasing mitochondrial ATP production as well as mitochondrial antioxidant capacity.[22] Cordyceps also has nutritional value, as it contains biological components such as essential amino acids, various vitamins (B1, B2, B12, E and K), and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.[23] Moreover, Cordyceps has been found to improve symptoms of asthma.[24]

In popular culture[edit]

Cordyceps has appeared throughout popular culture:

  • It is the cause of the pandemic that wipes out most of humanity in Mike Carey's postapocalyptic novel The Girl with All the Gifts (2014) and its film adaptation (2016).[27]
  • In the book The Ghost Woods by C. J. Cooke, a Cordyceps fungus gains sentience and uses human hosts to manipulate their behaviour into helping it reproduce by finding further hosts.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cordyceps". NCBI taxonomy. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  2. ^ Buenz, E. J.; B. A. Bauer; Osmundson, T. W. & Motley, T. J. (2005). "The traditional Chinese medicine Cordyceps sinensis and its effects on apoptotic homeostasis". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 96 (1–2): 19–29. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.09.029. PMID 15588646.
  3. ^ Nikoh, N (April 2000). "Interkingdom host jumping underground: phylogenetic analysis of entomoparasitic fungus of the genus cordyceps". Mol Biol Evol. 17 (4): 629–38. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a026341. PMID 10742053.
  4. ^ "Cordyceps". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 22 August 2023.
  5. ^ Sung, Gi-Ho; Nigel L. Hywel-Jones; Jae-Mo Sung; J. Jennifer Luangsa-ard; Bhushan Shrestha & Joseph W. Spatafora (2007). "Phylogenetic classification of Cordyceps and the clavicipitaceous fungi". Stud Mycol. 57 (1): 5–59. doi:10.3114/sim.2007.57.01. PMC 2104736. PMID 18490993.
  6. ^ a b "Cordyceps". Index Fungorum. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  7. ^ Elias Magnus Fries, Observ. mycol. (Havniae) 2: 316 (cancellans) (1818)
  8. ^ Edmond Tulasne & Charles Tulasne, Select. fung. carpol. (Paris) 3: 20 (1865)
  9. ^ a b c Sung, GH; Hywel-Jones, NL; Sung, JM; Luangsa-Ard, JJ; Shrestha, B; Spatafora, JW (2007). "Phylogenetic classification of Cordyceps and the clavicipitaceous fungi". Studies in Mycology. 57: 5–59. doi:10.3114/sim.2007.57.01. PMC 2104736. PMID 18490993.
  10. ^ Holliday, John; Cleaver, Matt (2008). "Medicinal Value of the Caterpillar Fungi Species of the Genus Cordyceps (Fr.) Link (Ascomycetes). A Review" (PDF). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 10 (3). New York: Begell House: 219–234. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v10.i3.30. ISSN 1521-9437. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  11. ^ Shrestha, Bhushan; Han, Sang-Kuk; Sung, Jae-Mo; Sung, Gi-Ho (2012). "Fruiting Body Formation of Cordyceps militaris from Multi-Ascospore Isolates and Their Single Ascospore Progeny Strains". Mycobiology. 40 (2): 100–106. doi:10.5941/MYCO.2012.40.2.100. ISSN 1229-8093. PMC 3408298. PMID 22870051.
  12. ^ a b c Mongkolsamrit, S.; Kobmoo, N.; Tasanathai, K.; Khonsanit, A.; Noisripoom, W.; Srikitikulchai, P.; Somnuk, R.; Luangsa-ard, J. J. (1 November 2012). "Life cycle, host range and temporal variation of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis/Hirsutella formicarum on Formicine ants". Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 111 (3): 217–224. doi:10.1016/j.jip.2012.08.007. ISSN 0022-2011. PMID 22959811.
  13. ^ Andersen, Sandra B.; Gerritsma, Sylvia; Yusah, Kalsum M.; Mayntz, David; Hywel-Jones, Nigel L.; Billen, Johan; Boomsma, Jacobus J.; Hughes, David P. (September 2009). "The Life of a Dead Ant: The Expression of an Adaptive Extended Phenotype". The American Naturalist. 174 (3): 424–433. doi:10.1086/603640. ISSN 0003-0147. PMID 19627240.
  14. ^ a b "Cordyceps". Drugs.com. 12 July 2023. Retrieved 15 September 2023.
  15. ^ Huang, Tao; Zhou, Yanfen; Lu, Xuanzhao; Tang, Chenglun; Ren, Chaoxing; Bao, Xiaowen; Deng, Zhewen; Cao, Xiaomei; Zou, Jianjun; Zhang, Qi; Ma, Bo (February 2022). "Cordycepin, a major bioactive component of Cordyceps militaris , ameliorates diabetes-induced testicular damage through the Sirt1/Foxo3a pathway". Andrologia. 54 (1): e14294. doi:10.1111/and.14294. ISSN 0303-4569. PMID 34811786.
  16. ^ Soraksa, Natchadaporn; Heebkaew, Nudjanad; Promjantuek, Wilasinee; Kunhorm, Phongsakorn; Kaokean, Palakorn; Chaicharoenaudomung, Nipha; Noisa, Parinya (21 September 2023). "Cordycepin, a bioactive compound from Cordyceps spp ., moderates Alzheimer's disease-associated pathology via anti-oxidative stress and autophagy activation". Journal of Asian Natural Products Research: 1–21. doi:10.1080/10286020.2023.2258797. ISSN 1028-6020. PMID 37735930.
  17. ^ Meng, Meng; Wang, Haiyong; Li, Zhibin; Guo, Mingzhu; Hou, Lihua (19 June 2019). "Protective effects of polysaccharides from Cordyceps gunnii mycelia against cyclophosphamide-induced immunosuppression to TLR4/TRAF6/NF-κB signalling in BALB/c mice". Food & Function. 10 (6): 3262–3271. doi:10.1039/C9FO00482C. ISSN 2042-650X. PMID 31089650.
  18. ^ Qasim, Muhammad; Islam, Saif Ul; Islam, Waqar; Noman, Ali; Khan, Khalid Ali; Hafeez, Muhammad; Hussain, Dilbar; Dash, Chandra Kanta; Bamisile, Bamisope Steve; Akutse, Komivi Senyo; Rizwan, Muhammad; Nisar, Muhammad Shahid; Jan, Saad; Wang, Liande (1 December 2020). "Characterization of mycotoxins from entomopathogenic fungi (Cordyceps fumosorosea) and their toxic effects to the development of asian citrus psyllid reared on healthy and diseased citrus plants". Toxicon. 188: 39–47. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2020.10.012. ISSN 0041-0101. PMID 33058930.
  19. ^ Qasim, Muhammad; Xiao, Huamei; He, Kang; Omar, Mohamed A. A.; Hussain, Dilbar; Noman, Ali; Rizwan, Muhammad; Khan, Khalid Ali; Al-zoubi, Omar Mahmoud; Alharbi, Sulaiman Ali; Wang, Liande; Li, Fei (1 October 2021). "Host-pathogen interaction between Asian citrus psyllid and entomopathogenic fungus (Cordyceps fumosorosea) is regulated by modulations in gene expression, enzymatic activity and HLB-bacterial population of the host". Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology. 248: 109112. doi:10.1016/j.cbpc.2021.109112. ISSN 1532-0456. PMID 34153507.
  20. ^ "Chinese Medicine Specimen Database". libproject.hkbu.edu.hk. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  21. ^ Li, S. P.; Su, Z. R.; Dong, T. T. X.; Tsim, K. W. K. (1 January 2002). "The fruiting body and its caterpillar host of Cordyceps sinensis show close resemblance in main constituents and anti-oxidation activity". Phytomedicine. 9 (4): 319–324. doi:10.1078/0944-7113-00134. ISSN 0944-7113. PMID 12120813.
  22. ^ Leung, Hoi Yan; Chiu, Po Yee; Poon, Michel K.T.; Ko, Kam Ming (December 2005). "A Yang-Invigorating Chinese Herbal Formula Enhances Mitochondrial Functional Ability and Antioxidant Capacity in Various Tissues of Male and Female Rats". Rejuvenation Research. 8 (4): 238–247. doi:10.1089/rej.2005.8.238. ISSN 1549-1684. PMID 16313223.
  23. ^ Ashraf, Syed Amir; Elkhalifa, Abd Elmoneim O.; Siddiqui, Arif Jamal; Patel, Mitesh; Awadelkareem, Amir Mahgoub; Snoussi, Mejdi; Ashraf, Mohammad Saquib; Adnan, Mohd; Hadi, Sibte (January 2020). "Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential". Molecules. 25 (12): 2735. doi:10.3390/molecules25122735. ISSN 1420-3049. PMC 7356751. PMID 32545666.
  24. ^ Wang, Ningqun; Li, Jie; Huang, Xiaobo; Chen, Wenqiang; Chen, Yujing (5 December 2016). "Herbal Medicine Cordyceps sinensis Improves Health-Related Quality of Life in Moderate-to-Severe Asthma". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016: e6134593. doi:10.1155/2016/6134593. ISSN 1741-427X. PMC 5165155. PMID 28050193.
  25. ^ Kyle Hill (25 June 2013). "The Fungus that Reduced Humanity to The Last of Us". Scientific American. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  26. ^ D'Addario, Daniel (10 January 2023). "'The Last of Us,' From 'Chernobyl's' Craig Mazin, Is a Promising, Moving Zombie Saga: TV Review". Variety. Retrieved 15 February 2023.
  27. ^ Bachman, Mara (12 April 2020). "The Girl With All The Gifts: Fungal Infection & Hungries Explained". ScreenRant. Retrieved 23 October 2023.