reported on Jan 30, 2010:
A Thai doctor yesterday claimed he could make a fungus that can cure several diseases and enhance men's sexual potency like Viagra
Dr Somyos Kittimankhong, a senior official with the Department of Disease Control, said he had not found any Internet search results showing that the caterpillar fungus, which is priced at several millions of baht a kilo, could be made to germinate in captivity, which he said he had done. [.........] Somyos said he spent three years of trial and error and several millions of his own baht trying to make the fungus germinate before he found out recently that Thai jasmine rice, mixed with other nutrients and some vitamins as plant foodstuff, could make it germinate. The fungus used was bought from China and kept in a refrigerator modified to a steady temperature. The doctor said he was thinking about making profit from his discovery but had not yet thought about registering it.
Photo of a natural fruiting body growing out of the ground in Tibet. Kongpo Barla, Tibet AR, June 2006. (c) Daniel Winkler
If this story holds true - APPARENTLY IT DOES NOT - this would be a major breakthrough in the cultivation of Ophiocordyceps / Cordyceps sinensis. Many people are growing the mycelium, but so far no one succeeded in getting the mycelium to grow stromata, the fruiting bodies as part of artificial cultivation of this medicinal fungus. I had seen semi-artifically grown stromata in 2003 in Dartsedo / Kangding (Ganzi / Garze Tibetan Aut. Prefecture, Sichuan), but they were grown on larvae of Thitarodes ghost moth (see picture below). However, this project never managed to scale up and produce big quantities for whatever reason.
Cordyceps grown in shoe box-sized plastic tubs. Photo: Daniel Winkler in Dartsedo / Kangding (Ganzi / Garze Tibetan Aut. Prefecture, Sichuan), April 2004.
My biggest worry back then as now is that the artificial production of Yartsa gunbu will undermine income for rural Tibetans. I rather have a million of marginalized people earn some cash than one company making millions. However, many Chinese consumers are willing to pay more for the natural product collected in the wild, so even if these cultivation techniques succeed the bottom should not fall out of the market. Moreover, if Cordyceps lives up to the hype created around it, the natural product alone will not suffice in the future to satisfy demand. Still it is to early to judge.
On a more funny note, if you want to read some absurd statements from a that seems to be sponsored by Pfitzer pushing Viagra check this out.