About Ophiocordyceps indica
Ophiocordyceps (Ophiocordycipitaceae, Hypocreales, Ascomycota) is the largest genus of entomopathogenic fungi having 290 described species and their number are still increasing. Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.), synonym Cordyceps sinensis, commonly known as ‘Himalayan Viagra' (Yarsagumba, Winter Worm Summer Grass) and Dōng Chóng Xià Cǎo in Chinese, is world’s most expensive, extremely rare, natural medicinal resource, with very restricted habitat in harsh environment of alpine meadows (3000-5500 meter amsl) of China, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India. In India, it is known as Keeda Jari and is reported froM Uttarakhand (U.K.), Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Its collection is very tough, sometimes life threatening, as collectors have to travel on the steep slopes upto glacier base in high altitude remote terrains. O. sinensis is commonly recognized as “soft gold” or “fungal gold” or “organic gold” and reported to even pricier than gold. There was 900% rise in its price between 1998-2008 and in China, quality Ophiocordycepswere sold at $140000/ kg. Huge market demand and price resulted in its overharvesting, overexploiting, degradation of fragile alpine habitat and serious decline in its yield that led it to near extinction. Therefore, conservation, sustainable harvesting and identifying its alternatives is strongly advocated, as its in vivo cultivation proved very difficult and non-viable.
Keeping in view the market potential of O. sinensis, the identification and positioning of any Ophiocordyceps species alternative to O. sinensis from wild is the need of the hour. There is a hidden diversity of entomopathogenic fungi in Himalayan regions of India. Therefore, exploratory surveys were conducted in different locations (1000 m-4800 m amsl) of Himachal Pradesh (H.P.), India, to explore the presence of any Ophiocordyceps species of commercial importance. As a result, we identified a novel Ophiocordyceps species, morphologically quite identical to O. sinensis from tree line locations (2202-2653m amsl) of Kullu, H.P., India. Interestingly, genetic profiling studies predicted the clade grouping of this novel fungus and O. sinensis (sharing ~94% genetic similarity) within the family Ophiocordycipitaceae and a name Ophiocordyceps indica sp. nov. is proposed. Identification of this novel species from low height approachable sites will open new avenues for studying biology, host insect-fungus interaction, cultivation, other ecological aspects that are difficult to study in case of O. sinensis due to their distribution in very tough terrains. It offers a unique and great opportunity to exploit it as a potentials alternative to highly prized medicinal mushroom, ‘Himalayan Viagra’. Such endeavours will help the rural population of the region, by generating employment, thereby improving their livelihood besides conserving foreign cash reserves and generating revenue.