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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sherman

Fungi 101: Quick Dive into the Queendom Fungi

Updated: Apr 26

Fungi are characterized by their unique mode of nutrition. Unlike plants, they cannot produce their own food through photosynthesis. Instead, fungi are heterotrophs, obtaining nutrients by breaking down organic matter in their environment. They secrete enzymes to digest complex substances, such as cellulose and lignin, and absorb the resulting nutrients.

The body of a fungus is typically composed of thread-like structures called hyphae, which collectively form a network known as a mycelium. The mycelium can be hidden underground, inside decaying matter, or visibly present as mushroom fruiting bodies.

Fungi reproduce through the production of spores, which can be dispersed by air, water, or other means. This enables fungi to colonize new habitats and reproduce effectively.

Fungi exhibit incredible diversity, with over 144,000 identified species and potentially millions more undiscovered. They inhabit various environments, from forests and soils to aquatic ecosystems and even extreme environments like deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

Beyond their ecological roles, fungi have significant impacts on human life. They are utilized in the production of food, beverages (such as bread, cheese, and beer), nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, laundry detergents, and building materials. Fungi also have medical applications, with certain species producing antibiotics and others being used in biotechnology for enzyme production and genetic engineering. The first antibiotic was created using a fungus: Penicillium spp. to create penicillin. Alexander Flemming’s scientific discovery of penicillin in 1928 pushed the envelope to open up a new world of drug discovery utilizing microbes.

Alternatively, Penicillium is also used to age cheeses like Camembert and Roquefort.

However, some fungi can also cause diseases in plants, animals, and humans. Fungal infections can range from mild, superficial conditions like athlete's foot to severe systemic diseases.

Fungi are all around us growing, spreading and cycling energy to provide nutrients for new life by getting rid of the old. In completing this project, we worked to understand and catalog a tiny piece of the fungal diversity we experience in our daily lives. Even when fungal fruiting bodies aren’t obviously apparent, spores and hyphae are almost always present in our environments.

In summary, the kingdom Fungi encompasses a vast array of organisms that play critical ecological roles, have diverse forms and reproductive strategies, and have both beneficial and harmful impacts on human life.

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