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This Mushroom Starts Killing You Before You Even Realize It | Deep Look

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The notorious death cap mushroom causes poisonings and deaths around the world. If you were to eat these unassuming greenish mushrooms by mistake, you wouldn’t know your liver is in trouble until several hours later. The death cap has been spreading across California. Can scientists find a way to stop it?

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DEEP LOOK: a new ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Get a new perspective on our place in the universe and meet extraordinary new friends. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.


Find out more on KQED Science:
http://ww2.kqed.org/science/2016/02/23/this-mushroom-starts-killing-you-before-you-even-realize-it/

Where do death cap mushrooms grow?
In California, they grow mainly under coast live oaks. They have also been found under pines, and in Yosemite Valley under black oaks.

Why do death caps grow under trees?
As many fungi do, death cap mushrooms live off of trees, in what’s called a mycorrhizal relationship. They send filaments deep down to the trees’ roots, where they attach to the very thin root tips. The fungi absorb sugars from the trees and give them nutrients in exchange.

Where do California’s death cap mushrooms come from?
Biologist Anne Pringle, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has done research that shows that death caps likely snuck into California from Europe attached to the roots of imported plants, as early as 1938.

How deadly are death cap mushrooms?
Between 2010 and 2015, five people died in California and 57 became sick after eating the unassuming greenish mushrooms, according to the California Poison Control System. One mushroom cap is enough to kill a human being, and they’re also poisonous to dogs. Death caps are believed to be the number one cause of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide.

What happens if you eat a death cap mushroom?
A toxin in the mushroom destroys your liver cells. Dr. Kent Olson, co-medical director of the San Francisco Division of the California Poison Control System, said that for the first six to 12 hours after they eat the mushroom, victims of the death cap feel fine. During that time, a toxin in the mushroom is quietly injuring their liver cells. Patients then develop severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. “They can become very rapidly dehydrated from the fluid losses,” said Olson. Dehydration can cause kidney failure, which compounds the damage to the liver. For the most severe cases, the only way to save the patient is a liver transplant.

For more information on the death cap:

Bay Area Mycological Society’s page with photos: http://bayareamushrooms.org/mushroommonth/amanita_phalloides.html

Rod Tulloss’ detailed description: http://www.amanitaceae.org/?Amanita%20phalloides


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For more content from your local PBS and NPR affiliate:
KQED Science: http://www.kqed.org/science
Tumblr: http://kqedscience.tumblr.com
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kqedscience

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is also supported by HopeLab, the David B. Gold Foundation, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Smart Family Foundation and the members of KQED.

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