ASTRID & HANNS-FRIEDER MICHLER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY ASTRID & HANNS-FRIEDER MICHLER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Close-up of an ear of rye infected with the fungus ergot (Claviceps purpurea). The dark, elongated body seen growing in place of one of the rye grains is a mass of fungal tissue known as a sclerotium. Ergot produces several important alkaloids, chemically related to LSD (lysergic acid diethyamide), including ergotamine (used to treat migraine) and ergometrine (which stimulates uterine contractions and is used to assist labour and to control bleeding following delivery). The consumption of infected rye can cause poisoning (ergotism), with symptoms including gangrene of the fingers and toes, vomiting, nausea & headache.
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