CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Cyclic_Peptide_Toxins_of_Amanita
and Other Poisonous Mushrooms

By Jonathan Walton
2018, Springer
Hard cove, soft cover: 245 pages
ISBN-13: 9781469638539
$199.99 & $139.99 at Springer website
ISBN-10: 9783319768212
ISBN-13: 978-3319768212
$24.00 to $148 at Amazon

Why do some mushrooms produce amatoxins? And why are these compounds so deadly? How do Amanita mushrooms avoid being poisoned by their own toxins? There is much about the toxic chemistry of these mushrooms that has fascinated scientists and laypersons alike. One thing is for certain: almost all mushroom fatalities are due to the genus Amanita, whose poetic common names (“Death Cap,” “Destroying Angel”) attest to their lethality.

In his classic 1986 book, Theodor Wieland covered the state of our knowledge about the chemistry and biochemistry of the toxins of Amanita mushrooms up until that time, with a particular focus on the decades of chemical research by him and the Wieland dynasty (including his father, brother, brother-in-law, and cousin). Wieland’s book is now mainly of historical interest, with its exhaustive overview of the early chemical studies done without benefit of methods taken for granted by modern chemists.

Taking up where Wieland left off, Michigan State University chemist Jonathan Walton, over many decades, greatly expanded what we know about the chemistry of amatoxin-producing mushrooms using newer methods for chemical analyses and molecular biological techniques. The Cyclic Peptide Toxins of Amanita and Other Poisonous Mushrooms was his magnum opus. Sadly, this monumental book was published just months before his death.

The size, publisher, title—even the book’s green cover—closely resembles Wieland’s 1986 publication. Walton’s is a top-to-bottom revision—and so much more. The material covers history, chemistry, and biology with equal thoroughness. It should be of interest to natural products chemists and biologists, professional and amateur mycologists, and toxicologists. The three scientific fields that are most relevant to the book are natural products chemistry, mycology, and fungal molecular genetics. Walton was an expert in all three, and adept at conveying his message. While this book is very technical, all technical terms are explained very clearly; mycologists will be able to understand the relevant chemistry, and chemists will be able to understand the relevant fungal biology. Chapters include: Introduction (includes basic mycology and overview of amatoxin-producing mushrooms; Chemistry of the Amanita Peptide Toxins; Distribution and Taxonomic Variation in the Amanita Cyclic Peptide Toxins; Biosynthesis of the Amanita Cyclic Peptide Toxins (includes genetics involved in toxin production); Biological Activities of the Amanita Peptide Toxins (includes information on how toxin acts on the victim); Ecology and Evolution of the Amanita Cyclic Peptide Toxins; Medical and Biotechnological Aspects (includes possible current and future beneficial uses of these toxins); Future Outlook. As you would expect from a Springer book, there are abundant citations to previous scientific work. Likewise, if you are familiar with Springer books, you know that all the books in their stable come at a hefty price, however you can find much cheaper sources than at their website store page.

Jonathan Walton was a friend and a colleague. His reserved demeanor belied his brilliant mind and insatiable curiosity. Although he will be sorely missed, his legacy will live on far into the future through this magnificent book.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi