These pretty mushrooms can cure cancer — if they don't kill you in the process

Unfortunately, those properties are deadly. These are the jack-o-lantern mushrooms, and their gills have a faint, but beautiful, bioluminescence. The mushrooms are intriguing in theory, but they're lethal when it comes to actual practice.

This looks like a scene from Fantasia, but it's an actual mushroom. Omphalotus olearius, or the jack-o-lantern mushroom, grows on hard wood stumps all over the United States. The mushroom earns its nickname by glowing faintly at the gills. You need to let your eyes adjust to the dark in order to see the light, but they're well worth looking for. The glow comes from luciferase, and if you're asking why mushrooms need to glow, they don't. This is waste product, and the fungus is getting rid of it.

The jack-o-lantern mushroom isn't just sought after for aesthetic reasons. It's chock full of compounds that can fight cancer — or could, if they weren't too toxic. Right now, researchers are looking for ways to manipulate, or just understand, how the mushroom makes these compounds and how they could be made useful in the future.

Image: Noah Siegel

Via Cell and Tom Volk Fungi.