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A downy killer wages chemical warfare

With deadly chemical strikes, a fungus takes out insects in powdery burst

11:44am, July 13, 2015
One of Beauveria bassiana's (a fungus) vicitims

DEADLY FUZZ  A caterpillar succombs to one of Beauveria bassiana's lethal chemical cocktails. The fungus deploys deadly combinations of enzymes to assist in the consumption of its favorite meal: bugs.

It may look sweet and fuzzy. But make no mistake. It’s a cold, calculated murderer.

The assassin, a common fungus called Beauveria bassiana, slays with a vast arsenal of chemical weapons, leaving corpses in a fluffy white shroud (including the caterpillar above). And like any trained killer, it quickly moves on to the next victim. “If you’ve got six to eight legs, it is going to go after you,” says molecular biologist and biochemist Nemat Keyhani of the University of Florida in Gainesville. People and other vertebrates are generally safe, he says.

With a cocktail of enzymes, B. bassiana bores through the armor of more than 700 arthropod species worldwide. Once inside a victim, the fungus feasts on the doomed creature’s bloodlike hemolymph, nimbly evading prey defenses with tricks, some unknown to science.

When the fungus is finished dining on hemolymph, usually after a few days, it simply eats its way out

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