Fungus Facts and Fiction

By Sylvia Cini

Is fungus good or bad? After finding a fungus farm in your sneakers, you might think that all fungus is bad. But did you know that fungus can also treat the flu, make stone wash jeans and turn out some tasty food? Read on to learn the truth about fungus.

Characteristics of Fungi

Fungus ne3 There are four main characteristics that define the subjects of the Kingdom Fungi:

1. Fungi are absorptive organisms; this means they don't make food like plants. They LIVE on top of their food source and absorb the nutrients they need directly through their cell membranes. (It would be like lying down on a pizza and absorbing it through your skin--neato!)

2. Most fungi are filamentous, rod-shaped. These long lean body fibers, hyphae, are what bind the fungus to its host. As a group the stalk of hypae is known as the mycelium.

3. Fungi can reproduce both asexually (alone) and sexually (with a partner). This is a survival mechanism--if only one spore makes it to a suitable home it can establish a colony on its own.

4. All fungi are eukaryotic. They have membrane-bound nucleii which contain DNA and membrane-bound organelles.

Different Types Of Fungus

Fungus on Fungus Fungi are well-equip to draw vitamins and nutrients from just about any object living, dead or non-living.

There are three categories of fungi that have different feeding habits:

saprophytic, those that feed on dead organisms;

parasitic, which feed off living hosts;

and symbiotic,fungi that have a mutually beneficial relationship with their host.

Fungus 09 When fungi eat they break down matter into simple components and re-release carbon atoms into the ecosystem. Plants and animals do the same thing, but far less efficiently.

  • Fungi release 85% of the carbon in a forest. Even though they outnumber the fungi, plants and animals only release 15%.
  • Without fungus, valuable nutrients would be locked in natural rubbish such as dead leaves, fallen trees and feces. Thist forest waste would decay much slower, decreasing the nutrients in the soil which plants and animals need to survive.

Public Transportation: How Fungi Flies

Fungus yellow Fungi don't have arms, legs or wings but they sure get around.

  • Fungal spores can travel in the wind, but more often they are transported by animals.
  • They cling to fur, stick to snouts and pop up in poop. Don't look surprised, it's an old trick. Scientists have even found fungal remains from the Pleistocene Era in squirrel dung. That's a story 12,000 years in the making.

Fungi? Yes, Please!

Fungus can be delicious! It's an important ingredient in a number of the foods that we eat everyday.Bread Dough 

Yeast is a fungus that is used to create levened breads, doughs that rise. If it's light and fluffy there is usually yeast involved!The following list contains food that is usually made with yeast.

  • pizza
  • bagels
  • bread rolls
  • pretzels
  • sour dough breadFission Yeast 
  • beer
  • malt beverages
  • wine
  • marmite
  • vegemite
  • soy sauce
  • Donuts, cake and fruit can also contain yeast.

Blue Stilton Penicillium Here are some other foods that also contain fungi.

  • Hard Salami and other dried sausages
  • Country Cured Ham
  • Blue Roquefort Cheese
  • Gorgonzola Cheese
  • Stilton Cheese
  • Brie Cheese
  • Camembert Cheese

Fungi And Your Health

Fungus ne10 Fungus is among us each and every day.

It's in the air, in our food and (that's right) on our skin! A certain amount of fungus will always live on your skin. This ISN'T because you're dirty or have poor hygiene. It is unavoidable because there are microscopic fungi in and on EVERYTHING. For the most part you don't have to worry about this fungus. But it can cause health problems for some people.

  • Allergies. Fungus can cause respiratory (breathing) allergies similar to pollen and pet dander. If you suffer from an allergy to fungus you might get itchy skin, a stuffy nose, red eyes and a tickle in your throat. People with severe allergies can have a more dramatic reaction; their airways will work to keep the fungi out--by closing completely!
  • Fungus can make you throw up. Ever smelled a piece of moldy bread? Or gagged at the sight of a moldy, mushy orange? That's your body protecting you. Think of it like a biological message keeping you from eating unhealthful foods.
  • Athlete's foot, jock itch, ringworm and yeast infections are some of the more common types of infections caused by fungus on the skin. Fungus can settle underneath your nails, between your toes, on your inner thigh, anywhere warm and wet. (GROSS!) Once its fluffed its pillows, it feasts on an endless smorgisborg of dead skin cells. (You shed about 30,000 every minute.) This infection can go away on it's own, but usually your doctor will prescribe an antifungal cream or pill.

Intertrigo-1 BUT, fungi can also play a role in improving your health. For example, Penicillium chrysogenum is used to create an antibiotic called penicillin. Penicillin was the first fungus to go to medical school but not the last. Today, doctors use fungi to treat high cholesterol and treat conditions such as hepatitus B, high cholesterol, the flu and even cancer.

Fashionable Fungus

Trichoderma Viride is used in the textile industry to make stone-washed jeans. Previously, this process was performed with chlorine and agitators. By using Tricoderma, manufacturers of stone-wash jeans can cut down on processing chemicals, which saves money and the environment.

And if that isn't enough to impress you, Trichoderma Viride also has agriculture potential as fungicide. Tricoderma based-fungicides are still in the experimental stages but one day they could be helpful in clearing up fungal infestations.

Having Fun, Guys?

Madurella grisea PHIL 4158 lores So, what do you think? Is fungus good or bad? If you still can't decide, click on these links to find more interesting facts about fungi.

All Photos Courtesy of Wikimedia and Creative Commons