Mycosis is the term for fungal infection in animals including humans. The mycoses are categorized into superficial, cutaneous, subcutaneous, and systemic.
A large group of eukaryotes, the fungi incorporate different kinds of organisms, like molds, yeast, mushrooms, etc. In the system of classification of living beings, fungi are placed in a group different from bacteria, animals, and plants. Since they do not possess chlorophyll, fungi are unable to carry out photosynthesis. The different forms of fungi include rusts, smuts, puffballs, mushrooms, morels, truffles, yeasts, etc. The characteristics of 70,000 species of fungi have been documented till date. However, it is estimated that the total number of species of these fungi could be 1.5 million.
Facts about Fungi
The important characteristics of fungi are discussed below. Different aspects of the life cycle of fungi can be understood through facts presented below.
Fungi don't possess chlorophyll, and they generally obtain nourishment from hosts by acting as parasites. Many species of fungi are saprophytic in nature; they obtain food from dead and decaying organisms.
Fungi can be microscopic as well as macroscopic in form. The most common structural forms of microscopic fungi are hyphae. Diameter of a hypha ranges from 2-10 micrometer. Length of a hypha can extend up to a few centimeters. The structure formed as a result of interweaving of hyphae is called mycelium.
Macroscopic fungi are easily visible to the naked eye. The common forms of such fungi are molds and mushrooms.
Pheromones, the chemicals produced by fungi, play an important role in sexual reproduction. Male and female fungi communicate with each other by means of pheromones.
In most fungi, asexual reproduction takes place by means of vegetative spores called conidia. Mycelial fragmentation is also a form of asexual reproduction.
The fungi that are found in low nitrogen environment exhibit adaptations in the form of sticky knobs and nooses. Such kinds of adaptations help the fungi to prey on small creatures, like nematodes by trapping them. These small creatures are then degraded to obtain food/nutrients.
Some of the fungi live in a symbiotic relationship with different organisms. For example, a fungus called lichens lives in a symbiotic relationship with green algae (an autotrophic organism).
The fungi are known to cause many different diseases in plants, animals, as well as humans. Athlete's foot and ringworm are some of the commonly observed problems caused by fungi. Some of the diseases in plants caused by fungi include stem rots, leaf rots, smuts, and rusts.
Earlier, fungi were placed in Kingdom Plantae. Fungi were considered as plants because of their immobile nature. Such a classification was made because many of the characteristics of fungi were similar to the traits of plants. It was only after phylogenetic analysis was carried out with the help of molecular methods that a separate group called fungi was formed.
Interesting Fungi Facts
Here, the focus lies on presenting some interesting and unusual facts about these organisms.
Puffball fungi are known for their medicinal use. These organisms have also been given religious importance in the culture of North American native Indians. Members of a native American tribe called Blackfoot believed that puffballs were fallen stars, and they fell on the Earth during a supernatural event.
Red squirrels gather and store dried fungi in trees and eat them in the winter season. Such kind of dried fungi are gathered in huge numbers by squirrels.
There are more than 60 species of fungi which exhibit the phenomenon of bioluminescence; in this phenomenon, light is emitted from the bodies of fungi. Such kind of light is also known as "cold light."
Newly discovered fossils of fungi are said to be millions of years old. Fossils found earlier were at the most 10,000 years old. As a result, newly discovered mushrooms were placed in a separate genus called Coprinites.
Few mushroom species can stay dormant for centuries, provided they find conditions suitable for staying dormant.
The use of mushrooms in food and medicines is well-known. However, fungi also play an important role in the absorption and digestion of industrial waste, pesticides, and oils.
Apart from plants, fungi also play a major role in the carbon cycle.
In forest soils, fungi are the dominant life forms, making up for 90% of the total biomass.
Biodegradation of plants, cellulose, and lignified cellulose occurs due to action of agents, like saprophytic fungi. As a result, 85 billion tons of carbon make their way into the atmosphere yearly in the form of CO2 that is released due to the decay of cellulose and lignified cellulose that's mainly caused by fungi.
There are a number of important antibiotics that are developed industrially through fermentation of fungi. A couple of examples are penicillin antibiotic from Penicillium chrysogenum and griseofulvin from Penicillium griseofulvin.
Mycorrhizal fungi is known to have a mutualistic symbiotic association with the roots of higher plants. These fungi protect the roots from attack by other fungi, and the fungal hyphae help in absorption of minerals and water. In return, the fungi derive sugars from the leaves of plants.
With regards to food products, for example, leavening of bread requires the Saccharomyces fungi. Penicillium plays a role in the ripening process of specialty cheeses. Saccharomyces cerevisiae, via fermentation processes, is responsible for the production of beverages, such as beer, wine, etc.