New Test Can Help Mushroom Foragers Avoid Deadly Toxin

Wild mushroom foragers in the Mountain West may soon have a new and easy way to tell if their pickings are poisonous. 

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced the creation of a portable test strip that quickly detects whether a mushroom you found under a dead log carries something called amatoxins. 

“The toxin can basically kill your liver and it generally kills people in four to 10 days if they can’t get treatment,” said microbiologist Candace Bever, one of the researchers who developed the test.

Amatoxins are found in some fungi like death cap mushrooms, which were first introduced to the U.S. from Europe. 

Reports of death cap poisoning are rare in the Mountain West, but there have been cases in Colorado and Idaho. The test strips can also detect whether amatoxins are in urine from people and dogs. 

This means that doctors or veterinarians can rule out whether an upset stomach is a result of eating the wrong mushroom. The federal scientists are working with a partner to produce a commercially available kit.

The USDA cautions that the test only identifies this specific class of toxin, not other compounds such as hallucinogens or toxins that cause other gastrointestinal or neurological symptoms. “So, it cannot determine if a mushroom is edible.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.

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