Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

Importance of Fungi

Category Fungi
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Fungi are eukaryotic organisms distinct from plants and animals and members of several other smaller kingdoms. Common fungi include mushrooms, conks, corals, jellies, puffballs, stinkhorns, morels, cups, truffles, lichens, yeasts, rusts, smuts, bread molds, mildews, and molds on bathroom tiles. In 1959, R. H. Whittaker introduced a five-kingdom taxonomy that granted fungi equal status with plants and animals. The five-kingdom system has been supplanted by a multiple-kingdom classification, and species traditionally treated as fungi are now distributed across several kingdoms.

Those believed to form a monophyletic lineage are assigned to kingdom Eumycota (often called kingdom Fungi). Mycology, the science devoted to fungi, still covers all traditional fungi. Fungi are considered as one of the most prolific types of life on earth, which are found nearly everywhere around us. There are many different types of fungi some of which are very beneficial for mankind. It has immense economic applications and plays a major role in producing a number of products such as drugs, antibiotics penicillin, contraceptives, food, mushrooms, morels, cheeses, alcoholic beverages, and soybeans.

Fungi have a profound biological and economic impact. As decomposers, plant pathogens, and symbiotic partners, their ability to grow anywhere, on anything, makes them both beneficial and harmful recyclers of carbon and nitrogen. Beneficially, they are used as food (mushrooms, truffles) and in baking and brewing (yeasts). They are being developed to detoxify pollutants (soil fungi), control insects (pathogenic Zygomycota), and regulate plant growth (pathogenic Ascomycota).

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Detrimentally, rusts, smuts, and molds cost billions of dollars through crop disease and spoilage while forest pathogens such as the honey mushroom ( Armillaria ostoyae ) and root-butt rot ( Heterobasidion annosum ) similarly threaten the timber industry. Some are toxic when eaten, such as the infamous destroying angel ( Amanita phalloides ). Natural LSD, a hallucinogen produced by ergot ( Claviceps purpurea ), is associated with medieval hysterical frenzies produced by consumption of infected grain, and the aflatoxin produced by Aspergillus flavus in improperly stored grain is one of the most potent carcinogens yet discovered.

As human and animal pathogens, fungi cause infections that range from the vexing (athlete's foot, yeast infections) to life threatening (histoplasmosis). Fortunately, other fungi (such as Penicillium ) have been used to develop modern antibiotics and beneficial immunosuppressants . Recycling Fungi, together with bacteria, are responsible for most of the recycling which returns dead material to the soil in a form in which it can be reused. Without fungi, these recycling activities would be seriously reduced. We would effectively be lost under piles many metres thick, of dead plant and animal remains. Food

Fungi are also important directly as food for humans. Many mushrooms are edible and different species are cultivated for sale worldwide. While this is a very small proportion of the actual food that we eat, fungi are also widely used in the production of many foods and drinks. These include cheeses, beer and wine, bread, some cakes, and some soya bean products. While a great many wild fungi are edible, it can be difficult to correctly identify them. Some mushrooms are deadly if they are eaten. Fungi with names such as 'Destroying Angel' and 'Death Cap' give us some indication that it would not be a terribly good idea to eat them!

In some countries, collecting wild mushrooms to eat is a popular activity. It is always wise to be totally sure that what you have collected is edible and not a poisonous look-a-like. Medicines Penicillin, perhaps the most famous of all antibiotic drugs, is derived from a common fungus called Penicillium. Many other fungi also produce antibiotic substances, which are now widely used to control diseases in human and animal populations. The discovery of antibiotics revolutionized health care worldwide. Some fungi which parasitise caterpillars have also been traditionally used as medicines.

The Chinese have used a particular caterpillar fungus as a tonic for hundreds of years. Certain chemical compounds isolated from the fungus may prove to be useful treatments for certain types of cancer. A fungus which parasitises Rye crops causes a disease known as Ergot. The fungus can occur on a variety of grasses. It produces small hard structures, known as sclerotia. These sclerotia can cause poisoning in humans and animals which have eaten infected material. However, these same sclerotia are also the source of a powerful and important drug which has uses in childbirth. Food Spoilage

It has already been noted that fungi play a major role in recycling organic material. The fungi which make our bread and jam go moldy are only recycling organic matter, even though in this case, we would prefer that it didn't happen! Fungal damage can be responsible for large losses of stored food, particularly food which contains any moisture. Dry grains can usually be stored successfully, but the minute they become damp, moulds are likely to render them inedible. This is obviously a problem where large quantities of food are being produced seasonally and then require storage until they are needed.

Types of Fungi Moulds and Yeast. Moulds The cotton-like mass grown on fruits, animal dung, leather goods or bread in a warm and humid climate is known as a mould. E. g. Mucor and Rhizopus. General Structure-

  • They have a network of transparent structures called as hyphae.
  • The entire mass of such threads is called as mycelin.
  • Nutrition - They obtain their food from the substratum on which they grow.
  • Respiration - they acquire aerobic respiration. Reproduction in moulds is both asexual and sexual.
  • Asexual reproduction in moulds occurs by the method of columella.
  • Sexual reproduction in moulds occurs by the method of conjugation.

Yeast Yeast is a one-celled microorganism growing all around us and on us. It grows when it has food and water, and suspends growth when it does not. In suspended animation, it is light enough to be blown by the wind, like a seed. If there is water and food where it lands, it will reproduce and continue the cycle. It is also on human skin and can be transferred to food through contact, with clean or dirty hands. Yeast has been exploited by humans for thousands to make bread, beer and wine. It does so by turning sugar into alcohol and gas to gain energy.

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