Fungi – Meaning, Characteristics, Types, And 3 Examples

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Fungi – Meaning, Characteristics, Types, And 3 Examples

When the topic of fungi arises, we often encounter it in an educational setting where we learn about it. However, it can still be perplexing. Surprisingly, fungi, including mushrooms and other varieties, are also consumed as food.

In this blog post, I will comprehensively explain what fungi are and provide examples to illustrate their diversity.

Fungi Definition

Fungi, or fungus (singular), represent a kingdom of typically multicellular eukaryotic organisms. They are heterotrophs, meaning they cannot produce their food, and play crucial roles in the nutrient cycling of ecosystems.

Fungi reproduce through both sexual and asexual means while also engaging in symbiotic relationships with plants and bacteria. However, they can also cause certain diseases in plants and animals. The scientific study of fungi is known as mycology.

Fungi Characteristics

The following are the characteristics of fungi.

1. Fungi exhibit both single-celled and multicellular forms. Single-celled fungi are known as yeast. Certain fungi can switch between single-celled yeast and multicellular structures, depending on the specific stage of their life cycle. Fungal cells possess a nucleus and organelles similar to those in plant and animal cells.

2. Multicellular fungi comprise numerous hyphae (singular: hypha), filamentous structures with branching. Hyphae are tubular and divided into cell-like compartments by septa, which are wall-like structures. These cells can contain multiple nuclei, and the nuclei and other organelles can migrate between them.

3. Fungi are heterotrophic organisms that cannot produce food and rely on organic matter for nutrients. They utilize their hyphae, which elongate and branch out rapidly, facilitating the rapid expansion of the fungal mycelium.

4. Fungi are adaptable organisms, capable of acquiring nutrients from diverse sources and thriving in various environmental conditions. Certain fungi are classified as saprobes, deriving nutrients from decaying organic matter. These fungi, decomposers, are crucial in breaking down and eliminating dead organisms.

5. Fungi can form mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships with photosynthetic algae, bacteria, and plant roots. When a fungus forms a symbiotic association with an animal capable of photosynthesis, it is called a lichen. On the other hand, a symbiotic association between a fungus and plant roots is known as mycorrhiza.

Types of Fungi

The following are types of fungi

1. Chytridiomycota

Chytrids, typically discovered in Chytridiomycota, are generally tiny and inhabit aquatic environments. They commonly reproduce asexually and generate spores that employ flagella, small appendages resembling tails, to facilitate movement.

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a specific type of chytrid, can induce a fungal infection in frogs by tunnelling beneath their skin. This pathogen has recently caused widespread destruction among harlequin frog populations in Central and South America, leading to the demise of approximately two-thirds of these frogs.

2. Zygomycota

Zygomycetes are primarily found on land and derive nourishment from plant remains or decomposing animal matter. They also pose issues by proliferating on human food sources. One instance of a zygomycete is Rhizopus stolonifer, a type of mould commonly found on bread.

Unlike other fungi, the hyphae of zygomycetes lack septa, resulting in a mycelium that forms a single large cell containing multiple nuclei. Typically, they reproduce asexually through the production of spores.

3. Glomeromycota

Glomeromycetes, constituting approximately 50 per cent of the fungal population in the soil, frequently establish mutualistic relationships with plants through mycorrhizae. Remarkably, about 80 to 90 per cent of terrestrial plants form mycorrhizal associations with glomeromycetes.

In this symbiotic interaction, the fungi receive sugars from the plants while extracting minerals from the soil, thereby providing essential nutrients to the plants. Furthermore, these fungi primarily reproduce through asexual means.

4. Ascomycota

Ascomycetes frequently act as pathogens affecting plants and animals, including humans, and are responsible for various infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and ergotism. The latter can lead to symptoms like vomiting, convulsions, hallucinations, and in severe cases, death.

Interestingly, certain ascomycetes, like Candida albicans, are typically present in humans’ respiratory, gastrointestinal, and female reproductive tracts. C. albicans is a yeast that resides within these body parts. Ascomycetes possess reproductive structures called asci, which generate sexual spores but can also reproduce asexually.

5. Basidiomycota

Similar to ascomycetes, basidiomycetes also generate sexual spores called basidiospores within specialized cells called basidia. These basidia typically have a club-like shape, so basidiomycetes are often called club fungi.

Sexual reproduction is the predominant mode of reproduction among most basidiomycetes. Mushrooms serve as a well-known illustration of this group of fungi.

Examples of Fungi

Fungi are occasionally neglected in biology, especially when compared to bacteria, plants, and animals. One reason for this is that numerous fungi are microscopic, and the study of fungi, known as mycology, emerged only after the invention of the microscope. Nonetheless, there exist numerous familiar examples of fungi.

1. Yeasts

Yeasts are a notable example, with Candida albicans being a prime illustration. Candida albicans naturally inhabit the human body, but occasionally, it can overgrow and lead to a yeast infection. These infections are highly prevalent, as approximately 75 per cent of women will experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.

2. Mushrooms And Truffles

Mushrooms and truffles are examples of edible fungi, with truffles being particularly sought after in high-end international cuisine.

3. Mould

Moulds are examples of fungi that gradually develop on food, leading to spoilage. To inhibit mould growth, food is refrigerated as most moulds struggle to thrive at temperatures around 4°C (39°F).

Nevertheless, certain moulds play a beneficial role in the production of cheese. In cheese-making, moulds are intentionally introduced into certain varieties such as soft-ripened brie, washed rind cheeses like Limburger, and blue cheeses.

Jael Okwuchukwu
Jael Okwuchukwu
I am Okwuchukwu Jael, a writer, educator, and musician from Enugu State. Teaching, both academic and musical, is a passion of mine, and I specialize as a Western pianist. Currently, I am employed as a blogger at Writer's King LTD, combining my love for writing and desire to share knowledge with a broader audience.

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