The kingdom Fungi includes an enormous variety of living organisms collectively referred to as Eucomycota, or true Fungi. While scientists have identified about 100,000 species of fungi, this is only a fraction of the 1.5 million species of fungus likely present on Earth. Edible mushrooms, yeasts, black mold, and the producer of the antibiotic penicillin, Penicillium notatum, are all members of the kingdom Fungi, which belongs to the domain Eukarya.
- 24.0: Prelude to Fungi
- The word fungus comes from the Latin word for mushrooms. Indeed, the familiar mushroom is a reproductive structure used by many types of fungi. However, there are also many fungi species that don't produce mushrooms at all. Being eukaryotes, a typical fungal cell contains a true nucleus and many membrane-bound organelles. The kingdom Fungi includes an enormous variety of living organisms collectively referred to as Eucomycota, or true Fungi.
- 24.1: Characteristics of Fungi
- Although humans have used yeasts and mushrooms since prehistoric times, until recently, the biology of fungi was poorly understood. Up until the mid-20th century, many scientists classified fungi as plants. Fungi, like plants, arose mostly sessile and seemingly rooted in place. They possess a stem-like structure similar to plants, as well as having a root-like fungal mycelium in the soil. In addition, their mode of nutrition was poorly understood.
- 24.2: Classifications of Fungi
- The kingdom Fungi contains five major phyla that were established according to their mode of sexual reproduction or using molecular data. Polyphyletic, unrelated fungi that reproduce without a sexual cycle, are placed for convenience in a sixth group called a “form phylum”. Not all mycologists agree with this scheme. Rapid advances in molecular biology and the sequencing of 18S rRNA (a part of RNA) continue to show new and different relationships between the various categories of fungi.
- 24.3: Ecology of Fungi
- Fungi play a crucial role in the balance of ecosystems. They colonize most habitats on Earth, preferring dark, moist conditions. They can thrive in seemingly hostile environments, such as the tundra, thanks to a most successful symbiosis with photosynthetic organisms like algae to produce lichens. Fungi are not obvious in the way large animals or tall trees appear. Yet, like bacteria, they are the major decomposers of nature.
- 24.4: Fungal Parasites and Pathogens
- Parasitism describes a symbiotic relationship in which one member of the association benefits at the expense of the other. Both parasites and pathogens harm the host; however, the pathogen causes a disease, whereas the parasite usually does not. Commensalism occurs when one member benefits without affecting the other.
- 24.5: Importance of Fungi in Human Life
- Although we often think of fungi as organisms that cause disease and rot food, fungi are important to human life on many levels. As we have seen, they influence the well-being of human populations on a large scale because they are part of the nutrient cycle in ecosystems. They have other ecosystem roles as well. As animal pathogens, fungi help to control the population of damaging pests. These fungi are very specific to the insects they attack, and do not infect animals or plants.
Thumbnail: A cluster of mushrooms. (Modification of work by Chris Wee).