Posted in Microbes

The Fungi Kingdom

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. 

FUN-GUY

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!

Amy

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Posted in Microbes

Viruses. Not the computer kind.

Viruses are one of the smallest and deadliest of all the microbes. They’re so small that you need a very powerful microscope to be able to see them. Viruses can infect people, animals, and plants and can spread very quickly. They cause many diseases, some of which you might have already experienced, such as colds, flu, and chicken pox – very itchy spots!

Viruses are very nasty. They are villains of the microbiology world! Viruses can only reproduce through the use of another cell, known as the host cell. A viron (a single virus particle) will attach and enter a host cell, and use its reproductive machinery to replicate itself millions of times. These millions of particles go on to reproduce exactly the same way, and so the infection grows and spreads rapidly. Very nasty!

host cell and viron particles

So what stops us from dropping dead when we’re infected by a virus? Well, the human body is made up of one hundred trillion cells, so in comparison to the cells in the human body, a million virons are like a raindrop in a bucket. Also, our bodies are equipped with an immune system. Your immune system defends your body against infection and illness. I discuss this further in my book!

Viruses can be passed on through physical contact or through the air when someone sneezes. Doctors and scientists recommend reducing the risk of catching a virus by practicing good hygiene. Wash your hands after you cough or sneeze, before handling food, and after you use the bathroom! It is also recommended supporting your body by maintaining a healthy diet, for instance eating plenty of various fruit and vegetables, as well as keeping active and getting enough sleep.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned something new from this feature on viruses! Make sure to pass on this valuable information! I also hope this helps you fight the oncoming cold and flu season! 🙂