Healing properties of fungi from the Białowieża Forest

The Institute of Forest Sciences at Bialystok University of Technology reveals medicinal properties of fungi from the Białowieża Forest

The scientists from the Institute of Forest Sciences at Bialystok University of Technology (PB) have proven that fungi can be used as remedies for human cancer and a highly infectious bee disease American foulbrood (AFB). Over the years, several hundred extracts have been stored in the Fungi Extract Bank The scientists are expanding their knowledge of the fungi from the Białowieża Forest, and their work has already delivered tangible results.

The Fungi Extract Bank was established at the Science and Research Center of Bialystok University of Technology in Hajnówka. There are storee extracts of fungi found in the Bialowieza Forest – over 200 classified and described species. Selected extracts have been examined by the specialists from the Medical University of Białystok (UMB). The teamwork of the scientists from both institutions resulted in identification of specific features of the fungus Heterobasidion annosum (the pathogen who causes pine root rot disease). The fungus extract can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, thus, it can be useful in the treatment of e.g. colorectal cancer.

Inventive research has become the Podlaskie Brand

Several years of cooperation between the scientists from PB and UMB resulted in patent application No. P.420267 as regards H. annosum anticancer effects as well as publication in a leading scientific periodical “Journal of Molecular Sciences”. There was also established cooperation between the scientist from Białystok and specialists from Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin and the Jagiellonian University Medical College, Kraków. This inter-university consortium is to raise additional funds to conduct further analyses of H. annosum properties and chemical composition. All in an effort to help people fight cancer.

We knew that Heterobasidion annosum causes a disease that destroys entire stands of trees. On the other hand, we proved that this fungus can also inhibit the growth of cancer cells without destroying healthy ones. As the first in the world, we have confirmed a potential therapeutic effect of this fungus based on the results of preliminary analyzes of its chemical composition as well genetic tests – explains Ewa Zapora (PhD) from the Institute of Forest Sciences, Bialystok University of Technology.

The team composed of scientists from Bialystok University of Technology and the Medical University of Bialystok continues their research on H. annosum medicinal properties The works have been publicly acknowledged and received the Podlaskie Brand award 2020 (Category: Discovery).

Fungi as medicine of the future

Natural components are studied all over the world. The achievements of specialists from the Institute of Forest Sciences of Bialystok University of Technology drew attention of national and foreign mycologists. The scientists from Bialystok University of Technology participated in the 10th International Medicinal Mushroom Conference (IMMC10), China, 2019 ) as well as in the 18th Congress of European Mycologists, organized in 2019, in Warszawa and Białowieża, Poland by several institutions, including Białystok Univerity of Technology.

For centuries, the healing properties of mushrooms have been used by traditional Chinese medicine, either for prophylaxis or to boost vitality of patients. In Poland, knowledge on healing mushrooms was passed down from generation to generation, however, for various reasons it long remained on the margin of scientific interest. More attention was paid to the medicinal substances synthesized artificially or those obtained with the use of genetic recombination. Yet, due to, among others, increasing resistance of various microorganisms to antibiotic, conventional medicine started looking for natural therapeutic solutions.

Great potential of fungi from the Bialowieża Forest

In the Białowieża Forest, there grow almost 1700 species of fungi who produce fruiting bodies clearly visible without the use of a magnifying glass or a microscope (macrofungi). In this group, 190 species are endemic, i.e. they occur nowhere in Poland but in the Białowieża Forest

Fungi are the greatest and irreplaceable wealth of the Białowieża Forest. There occur unique species on a global scale. Many of them wait to be discovered. Their potential and a way of life never cease to amaze us. Fungi are placed in a different kingdom from plants and animals. They are organisms extremely sensitive to human pressures – says Professor Sławomir Bakier, the Director of the Institute of Forest Sciences at Białystok University of Technology.

The growing interest in fungi is a result of recognition of their great biological potential. The Fungi Extract Bank established at the Science and Research Center of Bialystok University of Technology in Hajnówka makes it possible to conduct comprehensive research on their potential use. Interestingly, in the Białowieża Forest, the scientists from the Institute of Forest Sciences continually encounter fungi, who have not been yet studied in terms of their chemical composition and classification.

Fungi as a rescue for bees

The Białowieża Forest fungi have been investigated not only for purposes of human medicine but also in order to support veterinary medicine, environmental engineering and the food industry.

In search of a natural solution to save bees from a dangerous disease, Prof. Sławomir Bakier examined 120 fungi species. A mixture containing extracts obtained from the fruiting body of the fungus Aurantiporus fissilis, shows effectiveness in fighting highly infectious bacterial disease in bees – American Foulbrood (AFB).

AFB is extremely hard to control, so in Poland it is ex officio eradicated by veterinary services – says Professor Sławomir Bakier, the Director of the Institute of Forest Sciences at Białystok University of Technology.

The only effective way to save an infected apiary is to burn a hive with diseased bees. AFB affects apiaries all over the world. In Europe 15 million of bee families are at risk.

The mixture prepared by Professor Bakier shows comparable effectiveness to that composed of antibiotics and polysulfamides. Currently, the procedure of granting a patent for this medicament is in progress.

Aurantiporus fissilis is a rare species, so now, in cooperation with the Jagiellonian University, we are checking whether we can grow it under lab conditions – says Prof. Bakier.

It is worth noting that in June 2020, Bialystok University of Technology rwas awarded patent for a mixture of birch extracts, formulated by Prof. Bakier and Prof. Valery Isidorov. This solution has a proven application in the prevention of AFB and European foulbrood (EFB).

The Bialowieza Primeval Forest – a heritage to protect

The employees of the Institute of Forest Sciences carry out many activities connected with making use of abundant resources of the Bialowieża Forest. It is worth emphasizing that all the activities undertaken are instigated by scientific passion and extraordinary respect for nature.

We step gently on this forest, aware that it embraces so much to discover, by us and next generations. Now we’re at the very beginning of the road.”- says Ewa Zapora, one of the protagonists of the promotional campaign about the Podlaskie Province – “People Fuelled by Nature”.

In their work, the scientists Ewa Zapora, Marek Wolkowycki and Slawomir Bakier draw inspiration and strength from nature. They take up difficult challenges and face up to limitations. The Podlaskie is in their DNA.


Monika Rokicka – Bialystok University of Technology


Gabriela Kościuk – Bialystok University of Technology