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The Killer Fungus Among Us

The 5-year hunt for a mysterious and elusive killer may have finally reached its end.


Photo: felibrilu (flickr)

People living in impoverished villages rely greatly on edible plants that they pick themselves, like mushrooms.

Summer after summer, people living throughout southwest China fall victim to Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome — they suddenly and mysteriously drop dead from cardiac arrest. For years, scientists have been trying to solve the riddle and put an end to these tragic deaths.

Finally, China is able to breathe a sigh of relief. Scientists believe they have found the killer. But wait, am I hearing this right? A killer mushroom?

Little, white mushrooms that are picked and eaten by rural villagers are believed to be the primary cause of these deaths. While locals are typically very knowledgeable about poisonous mushrooms, this tiny, frail fungus fooled everyone.

The poison levels of the mushroom are low, so many who ate them did not notice its toxic effects until it was too late.

Further lab investigations are needed to determine exactly how this poison works and if it really is the culprit behind the Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome.

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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