Assam varsity develops fungal powder to boost immunity

Scientists said the product was made by freeze-drying a “super mushroom” cultivated in Bodoland University

May 28, 2020 05:46 pm | Updated 08:10 pm IST - Guwahati

Bodoland University, one of Assam’s youngest universities, says it has developed a fungal powder to help people boost their immunity to disease.

The powder is from a parasitic but rare “super mushroom” called Cordyceps militaris .

Like most other universities and specialised institutions with a biotechnology laboratory, Bodoland University (BU) worked on the best protective equipment for the nose and hands of persons following the COVID-19 outbreak. It also looked at ways to fight the virus by boosting a person’s immunity.

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The outcome was a potent pinch of C. militaris , powdered through lyophilisation or freeze-drying at –80°C.

The earth has more than 400 species of Cordyceps , a fungus parasitic on insects as well as other fungi. Often referred to as a super mushroom, Cordyceps known for its anti-ageing, anti-viral, energy and immunity-boosting effect.

“Natural Cordyceps is hard to get and if dried, costs at least ₹8 lakh per kg. Our lab has been growing C. militaris since 2017 at a fraction of the cost,” said Sandeep Das, Dean of BU’s faculty of Science and Technology.

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He also heads the Technology Incubation Centre on Mushrooms that is funded by the Central government’s Department of Biotechnology, in the partly-completed BU complex, close to western Assam’s Kokrajhar town.

Long journey

A third of Mr. Das’s team of 12, including Vashkar Biswa who has been researching on Cordyceps , travelled 18-19 km daily during the lockdown to and from BU.

Their routine till May 3 led to a plethora of innovations — the fungal immunity booster, a membrane mask that costs less than ₹4 per unit, herbal and alcohol-based sanitisers, laser and LED-assisted unmanned sanitisation tunnel, a low-cost physical-cum-chemical sanitisation box and a PPE kit with an aquarium aerator.

Kokrajhar district’s former Deputy Commissioner P.P. Mazumdar issued them a special travel pass while Inspector-General of Police Anurag Agarwal facilitated access to alcohol and an assortment of herbs for their research.

“We made small paper pouches, each containing 150 mg of the super mushroom powder and distributed it free to about 500 people, many from nearby villages, while handing out herbal and alcohol-based sanitisers and masks. The dose ideally is once a week for making the system strong enough to resist viral attack,” Mr. Das told The Hindu .

The Department of Biotechnology has ordered capsules in two sizes from a firm based in Nashik, Maharashtra. The consignment is expected to reach BU soon.

Each capsule containing the powdered super mushroom would cost ₹120 if produced commercially.

But BU wants to make it affordable for the common man.

“Our university is almost a pioneer in lab-growing Cordyceps . The least I could do is make the paperwork fast to let a passionate team innovate,” said Laishram Ladu Singh, BU’s Vice-Chancellor.

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