One of world's deadliest fungus identified in Australia

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One of the world's most deadly fungus, with toxins that can be absorbed through the skin, has been identified growing in Australia for the first time, scientists said on Thursday.

The Poison Fire Coral has been found in Far North Queensland, a long way from its usual home in the mountains of Japan and Korea, according to researchers from the James Cook University (JCU) in Australia.

The bright red Poison Fire Coral fruit bodies were found on tree roots and soil.

"If found, the fungus should not be touched, and definitely not eaten. Of the hundred or so toxic mushrooms that are known to researchers, this is the only one in which the toxins can be absorbed through the skin," said Matt Barrett from JCU.

"This record extends the distribution of the fungus considerably, and it may be even more widespread in tropical Australia," said Barrett.

Encyclopedia Britannica lists the species as the world's second deadliest fungus, researchers noted.

Several fatalities have been documented in Japan and Korea where people have brewed and drunk a tea with Poison Fire Coral, having confused it for the edible Ganoderma or Cordyceps, which are used in traditional medicines, they said.

The Poison Fire Coral produces at least eight toxic compounds that can be absorbed through the skin.

"Just touching the Fire Coral fungus can cause dermatitis (reddening or swelling of the skin).

"If eaten, it causes a horrifying array of symptoms: initially stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and numbness, followed over hours or days by delamination of skin on face, hands and feet, and shrinking of the brain, which, in turn, causes altered perception, motion difficulties and speech impediments," said Barrett.

If left untreated, death can occur from multiple organ failure or brain nerve dysfunction, according to researchers.

Barrett said it was most likely that the fungus had occurred naturally in Queensland. There have also been reported instances of it growing in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Scientists are re-evaluating the scientific name of this fungus in light of genetic and microscopic characteristics.

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