Omphalotus olearius (The Jack O'Lantern Mushroom)

Spooky Story

When thinking of spooky creatures, an orange mushroom probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your head. While creatures with large fangs and long claws may take precedence, the O. olearius mushroom has a specific skill that can only be seen in the depths of night.  

biolum wikiMuch like a Jack O’Lantern carved from a pumpkin, this mushroom glows at night. In the world of biology, this is called bioluminescence. It is achieved by the mushrooms ability to produce an enzyme called luciferase. The enzymes are the mushrooms way of getting rid of its waste products. The bioluminescence is seen on the gills, on the underside of the mushroom. As seen in the picture, the glowing of the mushroom can be very bright. There are even stories in some 19th century field guides which tell of pioneers finding their way back to their cabins at night by simply using the glow of the mushrooms as light.  

*To try this at home, it is advised that you wrap the mushroom in a damp paper towel immediately after picking it. Once home and in a very dark room, remove the paper towel and allow your eyes to adjust.  

Luciferase, the same enzyme that makes this mushroom bioluminescent, has also been found to kill cancer cells and dramatically shrink tumors. Unfortunately, the chemical is too potent to be used on humans. However, a research team lead by Dr. Michael Kelner has synthesized an agent called Irofulven, derived from the chemical found in the O. olearius mushroom. The new agent, Irofulven, has been tested and found to reduce tumor size in patients with pancreatic cancer, with little to no side effects. (Kelner et al. 1996) In addition to having cancer-fighting medicines, this mushroom has been found to be one of the highest producers of a drug called Lovastatin; a drug used to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. (Atli et al. 2012) 


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