Why was the mushroom invited to the party? – Because he was a FUN-GUY! *Ba-dum tish*
So, let us dive into the kingdom of fungi. I suppose the word “fungi” brings the image of mushrooms to your mind. These types of fungi are multicellular clusters, but other fungi exist alone as single-celled organisms, like yeast cells, which are used in bread to make the dough rise. The mushrooms we see above ground is only part of the fungus, and this part is known as the fruiting body that holds spores.
Fungi begin life as teeny-tiny spores. They are so teeny-tiny, that they can only measure a few microns in diameter! In case you didn’t know, a micron is one thousandth of a millimeter! Under the cap of a mushroom are gills that are covered in spores. A cap with a diameter of ten centimeters can produce up to ONE HUNDRED MILLION SPORES PER HOUR.
When these spores are released, they travel through the air until they find a new home to settle and grow. This can be on soil, a pile of leaves, a log or even a piece of bread. Once settled, the spore will reach out extremely thin tubes called hyphae. These hyphae secrete enzymes that break down their food. The fungus grows and produces more hyphae within the food source.
Oh, and that fluffy stuff you find growing on bread and fruit? That is mold, a type of fungi. The furry growths are made up of hyphae that contain caps full of spores. These spores are eventually released, which settle and sprout on other foods. But before you start your hate campaign on molds, there is a type of blue mold called Penicillium that grows on fruit. It produces a molecule used in the antibiotic, Penicillin, which helps fight against bacteria inside the body!
Fungi are incredibly important to the natural world. They are nature’s decomposers. For instance, they break down woody lignin. So without them, we would have plenty of trees but very little soil. They also share an important relationship with many plants. The mycorrhizal group of fungi uses its hyphae to extend a plant’s roots. This provides the plant with beneficial nutrients such as zinc and phosphorus, as well as better access to water. In return, the fungi receive sugar that the plant creates through photosynthesis. So if you are a food lover, thank fungi for healthy food crops!
You can find more about fungi in my upcoming book, Microbes. The book will be released the beginning of December, but available to pre-order mid-November. It will be available to purchase through Amazon, Waterstone’s and my publisher, Thunderstone Books.
I hope you enjoyed this informative article on fungi, and have found a new appreciation for them! Until next time!