It’s estimated that there are over 99,000 species of fungi discovered worldwide, along with 1,400 species of Bacteria. Even though this is true, many people all over the world, still do not have a clue of what fungi really is. In this article I’m going to be explaining what is fungi, some different types, their reproduction also the benefits of some fungi.
Fungi is really a large group of single or multi-celled organisms, in some ways comparable to Algae in structural complexity but lacks chlorophyll. This means that Fungi is unable to manufacture its own food and are considered to be heterotrophic (dependent on organic substances for nutrition).
Fungi exist either as parasites on other living organisms or as saprophytes on organic debris. Although traditionally included with algae in the plant phylum thallopyta, fungi is believed to have originated from simple, animal like ancestors or from an immediate group known as protista. Some fungi groups may have differrent ancestors than others. Compared with over 1,400 species of bacteria there are about 100,000 species of fungi recorded.
Fungi lives in every conceivable type of habitat, including soils, tissues of plants and animals, fresh or brackish water and even stored products.
Without fungi, we would not be able to go into the bushes because, everything that fell over the years like, tree branches, leaves, even dead carcases, will not decompose wihout fungi. Parasitic Fungi lives on the host plant in an epiphytic relationship (living on plant surface) and on the host animal in an epizoic relationship (attached to or living on external surface of animal).
Certain fungi live in a symbolic association with algae,forming characteristic structures known as lichens. Most of the lichen fungi are ascomycetes.
Fungi also participates in many biological processes, such as, digestion in the intestines of wood-eating insects, many kind of fermentation and decay.
Fungi is without stems, leaves or flowers but most is large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Some fungi are responsible for diseases in animals, plants and man while others can be used industrially and for medicine. Many others like yeast, truffles and certain mushrooms are edible and are used as food.
Different types of Fungi
Every other day, a new type of fungi or bacteria is being discovered, so we can never be too certain on the exact amount of species that is out there. Fungi differ in shape, size and color, there are also thousands of different species. Just to name a few, Here are some pictures, of some of the different types of fungi along with basic details. Some you may be familiar with and some you may not.
1. Apple Cedar Rust Fungi – also known as Cedar Rust of the puccimiaceae family (a rust fungi, that infects certain plants). It’s estimated that there are about 4,600 species of rust fungi, that are parasitic and often cause huge losses of crops.
This particular type of fungi (apple Cedar rust), is mostly found on Crabapples, Cedar Trees and Apples. Which gives a yellow or a rust-like appearance on the plant leaves. This Fungi is also harmful to fruit and figs.
2. Stinkhorn Fungi – From the family of phallales (An order of Fungi, containing only Stinkhorns), are weird looking mushrooms. Known for popping up anywhere, especially in tropical and sub-tropical regions, they have many different appearances.
The fruiting bodies of the stinkhorns has a cylindrical structure, with the spore bearing surface at its Apex. It emanates a foul odor which attract flies and carion eating insects.
3. Morel Mushroom – Is a type of edible Sac Fungi, in the order pezizales division ascomycota. Sac Fungi ascomycetes, having about 64,000 species, is the largest group of fungi, belonging to the same species as Truffles.
Morels provide a good source of vitamin D and minerals and are a regarded as a culinary delicacy by chiefs and consumers. They range from 2 to 4 inches long with an honeycomb texture and a cone-shaped cap. Cultivation has become difficult, which makes the harvesting of wild morels a multi-million dollar industry.
4. Smuts – (basidiomycota,order ustilaginates), A group of fungi containing about 1,000 species of pathogens that are parasitic on flowering plants. They are called smut because they produce a black mass of powdery spores called teliospores, which develops,taking the place of grains in cereal crops.
The smut mycellium grows in a gall between the corn cells just before the teliospores are formed. They in turn, invade the large corn cells, causing them to collapse and die, the smut feeds on the contents of the cell for its growth. Only the membrane that covers the smut gall is unaffected by the fungus.
5. Amanita Muscaria – The Amanita Muscaria or fly agaric is a member of the basidiomycetes family. There are about 4,000 species of this type of fungi and most are edible but the psychoactive compounds found in fly agaric are toxins, meaning, that it’s a poisonous mushroom.
The name fly agaric originated from an old european tradition involving the crumbling of Amanita head caps in saucers of milk to attract flies.
The flies dranked the milk,became drowsy,collapse and died. Sympthoms from eating a dried amanita may include nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, distorted sights and sounds and sweating. If consumed raw, it can also cause vomiting, transient deep sleep, persistent headache or even coma.
6. Puffballs – A member of several groups of fungi, in the division basidiomycota. Puffballs have different sizes and appearances, from enormous terrestial species growing in rings in the soil to tiny species that grow in clusters on wood.
Not having an open cap with spore bearing gills, puffballs produce their spores internally instead, in a spheroidal fruitbody called gasterothecium.
The interior of puffballs is composed of spore bearing flesh when inmature, the ball splits open when it matures, revealing only spore dust, causing harm if it comes in contact with the eyes. These spores form a mass called a gleba, in the center of the fruitbody as it matures. Surprisingly, puffballs are eaten only when inmature but still some remain unedible.
7. Chytrids – Phylum Chytridiomycota Are usually included among the phycomycetes. Many from this group are known as parasites of Algae and Watermolds, which can be found in freshwater and moist enviroments. Chytrids have one-celled subsphercial bodies, some with delicate rootlike outgrowths.
In some chytrids, these outgrowths may elongate, developing new fungus bodies at their tips. Some chytrids form Oõspores, also chytrids and other related forms produce zoospores both of which has a single flagellum. There are about 1,000 chytrid species, most of which feed on dead and rotting organic matter (saprobes).
Other chytrid parasites,attack plants and invertebrate animals. A new frog chytrid batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, was recently discovered in 1999. It gave frogs a disease called chytridiomycosis and was responsible for a devastating decline and even the extinction of some species, among the frog population.
8. Bracket Fungi – (polypores), are among the many group of fungi in the phylum basidiomycota. There are over 1,000 species of bracket fungi, also known as conks, which feed on dead or dying organic matter. Some species even grow on living trees, causing white or brown rots, eventually killing the tree.
They usually appear in spring, autumn and summer and their spores which are called basidiospores, are in pores on the undersurface. Bracket Fungi are found in woodlands, where they cause rapid decay of stumps and fallen trees. Without this decaying fungi, logs and fallen trees would linger on forest floors for centuries, making hunting and logging impossible.
Some bracket fungi, including the Turkey Tail, are edible and non poisonous. When fresh, it it best used as a tea, it is also used in chinese herbal medicines to help boost the immune system also for its anti-tumor properties.
9. Yeast Fungi – Are classified into two seperate phyla, ascomycota (Sac Fungi) and basidiomycota (Higher Fungi). Although yeast are a single-celled organism, it has a wide range of habitats and can be found on plant leaves, flowers, fruits, as well as in the soil.
Yeast can even be found on the surface of the skin and in the inestinal track of warm-blooded animals. There are more than 800 types of known yeast fungi, some of which are very beneficial to humans, as a good source of vitamin B, being able to raise bread also fermenting sugars to make beer and wine.
Another type of yeast, that lives in the body is known as candida, it can cause disease in humans. If it grows out of control, it can cause infections on the skin, diaper rash, thrush of mouth and throat, vaginal infections, penis and feet infections. Infections and other health problems may occur if the body has too much yeast.
10. Black Bread Mold – (Rhizopus Stonifer) Is among the most common fungi in the world and is a member of the zygomycotas. Molds can grow on many different types of food but is usually found on bread because bread provide molds with a good source of nutrients. Please bare in mind, that storing your bread in the freezer, keeps it mold free and helps it to maintain freshness.
Although invisible,there are millions of mold spores in the air around us, molds reproduce by releasing their spores into the air asexually. If the spores land on a warm and moist enviroment, it will cause them to germinate into a fuzz then grow roots, that eventually mature and release spores on their own.
Most of the rhizopus species are saprobic (Feeding on dead organic matter), while other types of rhizopus, are considered to be parasitic or pathogens. Some types of rhizopus fungi are currently used for industrial processes, while other types can cause disease in humans, plants and animals.
The genetic regulation of sexual reproduction in fungi was first discovered in 1904 in the zygomycetes, by Albert Francis Blakeslee. He coined the terms homothallism and heterothallism to describe the 2 types of mating strains, which are now known to be common throughout the fungi.
Most Fungi reproduce by spores, which are tiny particles enclosed in walls. The phycomycetes, which produce Oospores or zygospores, the ascomycetes, which produce ascospores and the basidiomycetes, which have basidiospores, are generally recognized as the primary class of fungi. Other related forms which do not produce spores as a result of nuclear fusion are included as a class called fungi imperfecti or deuteromycetes.
Ascomycetes – (yeast, powdery mildews, black and green molds etc). Includes all true fungi, in which sexual reproduction results in Ascospores. There are about 12,000 different species of ascomycetes. The ascomycetes are produced within a specialized cell called the ascus.
In many ascomycetes, male structures (antheridia) and female structures (ascogonia) are produced. The antheridia donates nuclei to the ascogonia by fusion, with a receptive filament, the trichogyne. Ascomycetes have either more or less than 8 spores in each ascus.
Basidiomycetes – (corn smut, black stern rust of wheat, etc) This group of about 13,00 species comprises numerous and varied type fungi. The most characteristic type of spore produced is the basidiospore, formed exagerously on a basidium.
The terminal clavate hyphal cell, giving off four basidiospores, two of which are plus and two minus. Typically the sexual organs are absent and the function of sex is taken over by the sexually differentiated nuclei, which ultimately fuse in the basidium.
Phycomycetes – (water molds, white rusts and downy mildews, etc). This class resembling algae includes about 1,000 species, which are either uni-cellular or uni-nucleate or produce multi-nucleate, nonseptate mycellium.
The common black bread mold, comprising various species of rhizopus, is found on bread and stored food, it produces heterothallic mycelia which, although structurally identical, exhibit slight sexual differentiation, that is plus and minus strains.
Sexual reproduction may occur between different parts of the same mycellium. (homothallic mating) or between two self sterile but cross fertile strains of opposite mating type (heterothallic mating). The latter is regulated by a single pair of genes or alleles. The sex organs (gamentangia), fuse to form a dormant, thickwalled, pigmented and often sculptured zygote called the zygospore, the spores germinate eventually, to produce a new hyphoid mycellium.
Fungi Uses and Benefits
The hydrolic enzymes of some fungi, are very useful for a number of industrial and medical purposes. Eventhough some species of fungi are useful for these processes, bare in mind, that there are fungi which play a negative role and causing economic exspenses. Fungi which attack market produce, food products, paper, textiles, wood, leather and also optical equipments etc, cause huge economic losses. Here are some of the types of fungi, that has been beneficial to humans for decades.
1.)Aspergillus Orzae – Division (ascomycota, class eurtiomycetes), is a filamentous fungus (mold). Whenever it grows on steam wheat brand or rice brand, it produces an Amylase product, that is useful in alcoholic fermentation.
2.)Rhizopus Stonifer – (Black bread mold), it is used to manufacture fumaric acid, lactic acid and cortisone.
3.)Penicillium Roqueforti – Division ascomycota, is also a common sapotrophic fungi, characterized as a greenish blue mold and can be isolated from the soil. It decays organic matter and is used to produce roqueforti cheese.
4.)Penicillium Chrysogenium – Division ascomycota, this fungi can be found mostly, in indoor enviroments, especially in moist damp buildings, and also salted food. Penicillin (antibiotics), is obtained from the growth of penicillium chrysogenium, in submerged liquid culture.
5.)Aspergillus Flavus – Division (ascomycota), is a sapotrophic and pathogenic fungi (type of mold), that can be found on decaying vegetation, soil, wheat grains etc. It is also used for the manufacture of liquid glue.
6.)Aspergillus Niger -Division (ascomycota), is a haploid filamentous fungi (mold specie), which is also found in decaying vegetation, soil and plants. It is used for the commercial production of citric acid, gluconic acid and gallic acid, which is used in the manufacture of inks and dyes.
7.)Claviceps Purpurea – Division (ascomycota, class sordariomycetes), is known as an ergot fungus, which can also be found on grains, rye also forage plants. It is still used, to produce uterine contractions in childbirth.
Knowing is Important
Fungi, a weird living organism that lives on plants, humans, animals, food products, in the soil also water and on dead or dying organic matter, the knowledge of such is important. Many fungi species are edible and beneficial to humans, while others are poisonous and toxic. With millions of microscopic spores in the air, fungi is responsible for numerous diseases in humans, animals, plants, fish and even insects. Some fungi contribute to the cause economic losses, in attacking leather, texiles, wood, paper, etc. I remembered working at an establishment a few years ago, that was surrounded by puffballs and stinkhorns and never knew what they were. Eventually, i ended up catching a fungus skin infection and almost lost both hands, due to the scaly and fleshly scabs and was unable to work. My experiences made me to realize, how important knowledge really is, especially about some things that can seriously harm us. I think that, the more we learn of certain things, then the less we’ll be at risk.