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Moose Drool Kills Toxic Fungus

Update Date: Jul 25, 2014 04:25 PM EDT

Moose saliva kills toxic fungus, according to a new study.

Researchers from York University found that moose drool effectively fights off certain species of toxic grass fungus.

The latest study found that red fescue grass (which hosts a fungus called epichloë festucae that produces the toxin ergovaline) significantly slowed its fungus growth and toxicity when exposed to moose saliva.

"Plants have evolved defense mechanisms to protect themselves, such as thorns, bitter-tasting berries, and in the case of certain types of grass, by harboring toxic fungus deep within them that can be dangerous or even fatal for grazing animals," lead researcher Dawn Bazely of York University said in a news release.

"We wanted to find out how moose were able to eat such large quantities of this grass without negative effects," Bazely said.

Researchers collected saliva samples from moose and reindeer. Then they dabbed the saliva over samples of red fescue grass carrying the toxic fungus, imitating the effect of grazing.

Researchers found that exposure of moose saliva produced rapid results and inhibited fungus growth within 12 to 36 hours.

"We found that the saliva worked very quickly in slowing the growth of the fungus, and the fungus colonies," said Bazely. "In addition, by applying multiple applications of saliva to the grass over the course of two months, we found we could lower the concentration of ergovaline between 41 and 70 percent."

Researchers said moose saliva might have resulted in fewer toxins within their preferred area because these animals like to graze within a defined home range.

"We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future," concluded Bazely. "This study the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to 'fight back' and slow down the growth of the fungus."

The findings are published in the journal Biology Letters.

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