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Characteristics of Fungi

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Kingdom Fungi

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The bodies of Ascomycota are eukaryotic cells surrounded by a wall consisting of chitin and beta glucans. They can be single-celled (yeasts) or filamentous (hyphal) organisms. In addition, they can also be dimorphic. The yeasts grow by budding or fission, while hyphae branch out. Most are haploid, but some can be diploid. Spores are stored in cases or the asci, which release clouds of spore smoke. Nucelar fusion and meisos take place within the ascus.
Ascomycota are heterotrophic, meaning they obtain nutrients from both dead and living organisms. In addition, these fungi are capable of consuming almost any liquid, as long as there is water present in it. Sexual reproduction takes place within ascospores or meiospores, and they reproduce asexually with condia or meitospores. Reproduction takes place within in the ascus, with one round of mitosis following with meiosis. Some example of ascomycota is saprophytes, insect fungi ( Cordyceps sp), plant parasites (claviceps purpurea, ergot) and industrial fungi (yeast).


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Basidiomycota are filamentous fungi made up of hyphae. Most reproduce sexually through spores called basidiaspores which are produced externally by the basidia. These are classified under basidiomycota 3 subphyla Pucciniomycotina, Ustilaginomycotina, Agaricomycotina and 2 other class level taxa Wallemiomycetes, Entorrhizomycetes.. Basidiomycota include species like the mushrooms, puffballs, stinkhorns, bracket fungi, other polypores, jelly fungi, boletes, chanterelles, earth stars, smuts, bunts, rusts, mirror yeasts, and the human pathogenic yeast, Cryptococcus.


·         37% of it is true fungi

·         About 30,000 species

·         Found in nearly all terrestrial ecosystems, freshwater and marine habitats.

·         unicellular or multicellular, sexual or asexual, and terrestrial or aquatic

·         germinate to form hyphae or yeast cells

·         obtain nutrients by decaying dead organic matter

·         attack the wood in buildings and other structures



Interesting fungi

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Club and coral fungi

These types of fungi are made up of beautiful coral-like mushrooms and they look amazingly spectacular when they bloom or fruit all over the forest floor. A single mushroom of such species can weigh up to 50 pounds! The colours of such fungi include white, yellow, orange, red, purple or tan. The stalks of the fungi are finger-like or club-like and the tips of the stalk may be branched.

In most of the branched series, the mushroom appears to look like a cauliflower. These types of mushrooms are very different from other mushrooms, not only do they differ in the shape, but also where their spores are produced. The tip of the branches bears the spores. Although they may not look like normal mushrooms, they serve the same function.

These mushrooms are extremely difficult to identify as there have been more than 30 genera reported. Some of these species of mushrooms are considered the best to eat, but some species have been known to cause severe poisoning. Some upset the stomach but some have a laxative effect on people. Although there have been studies to show which species of mushrooms have an ill effect on people, the same species can poison some people and have absolutely no effect on some others.

Coral and club fungi can be found in spring, fall or winter, depending on the climate. Most of these fungi are decomposers and they fruit on the forest floor, logs or twigs. Some mushrooms have been known to be parasitic on trees and other plants.

Witches butter and other jelly fungi

Jelly fungi make rubbery seaweed-like mushrooms. They have been known to be coloured white, orange, pink, rose, brown or black. The mushrooms are either shaped like cups, railroad spikes or are branched like corals. There are also some shapeless mushroom species. The common name for mushrooms that are yellow and orange in colour is witches butter.

The jelly fungi are extremely different from other mushrooms. The basidia, which are the spore-making cells, of most of the mushrooms are a single, club-like cell. They are most commonly found on ridges or lining tubes under the mushroom cap. But the basidia of the jelly fungi either have walls or are forked and they are located on the upper surface, instead of the lower surface.

The only species that have been grown and sold in stores are Clouds ear and Woods ear. It is mainly used in soup. People like the crunchy, slippery texture.

Jelly fungi are often seen growing on logs, stumps and twigs. Some of these species are parasitic on other types of fungi, mosses, ferns or seed plants. The best time to find such fungi is in the fall or in spring below melting snow banks. Their rubbery flesh prevents them from drying out and keeps them from freezing. They shrink when the air is dry to retain its water, and they swell up again when it rains.


They are most commonly found in spring, they are delicious and fairly easy to identify.  Fresh morels are offered for a retail purchase at 20$ to 24& a pound, which converts to 40 – 50 dollars per kilo! Favourite spots for collecting morels are a close guarded secret and there have been several known wars among commercial morel collectors!

Morels are a fruiting body of a fungus that lives in the soil. When the soil temperature and moisture conditions are just right, the fungus will produce morels which contain the spores of the fungus. The wind carries the spores to new habitats where they would then germinate and produce a new individual of the morel fungus. The pitted and spongy cap on the white stems contain the spores. Some caps of the morels are black, gray or even white, depending on the species.

However, not all morels are edible. Some have been known to be poisonous such as the Beefsteak morel or brain mushroom.

True morels are edible and not poisonous


Truffles have been a fascination of humans for thousands of years; it has a tantalizing taste and an aroma so exquisite that once tasted, it can never be forgotten. Nowadays, the taste and aroma of commercially collected truffles is so intense that they use flavouring instead of a separate dish.

Truffles have been collected for about 3600 years now, and seeing as they grow underground, they are extremely expensive. Every spring, truffle hunters will go searching for truffles, bringing their pigs or dogs, hoping that their sensitive noses will lead them to the truffles.

In the year 2000, a record of nearly $400 was set for an ounce of white truffles! The word truffle describes a small fancy chocolate candy. Real truffles are roundish, brown and dirty when they are fresh from the ground. They are the fruit of the truffle organism, and they contain spores for reproduction.

Truffles rely on animals for spore dispersal, and they are the major wild animals dispersing the truffle spores.


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·         About 1,500 species

·         Mode of reproduction: Budding, some by binary fission

·         Unicellular – can be multicellular; when multiple budding cells chain together

·         Either obligate aerobes or obligate anaerobes

·         Develop optimally in a neutral or slightly acidic pH environment

·         Uses: Baking bread, brewing alcoholic beverages

·         Uses: Employed in the field of bioremeditation

·         Uses: Included in probiotic supplements – replenish natural flora in gastrointestinal tract to help boost immunity

·         Harbour opportunistic pathogens


Baking Yeast affected by static electricity



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·         Structure: filamentous

·         Appearance: Dusty spots found on various surfaces Eg Books, walls

·         Mode of reproduction: conidia

·         Cultured moulds are used in the production of food products such as cheese and soy sauce.

·         Medicinal Moulds: Penicillium chrysogenum Discovered by Alexander fleming

·         Useful compounds: Aspergillus niger is used in the production of citric acid, gluconic acid

·         Common moulds: Aspergillus, Fusarium, Penicillium


Symbiotic Fungi

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– Association in which one organism lives with another.
There are 4 types of symbiotic fungi

1. Mycorrhizae
2. Lichens
3. Fungus-Insect Symbiosis
4. Rumen Fungi


The symbiotic relationship is fungus-root. 95% of all plant species form mycorrhizae. There are 2 types of mycorrhizae, Ectomycorrhizae and Endomycorrhizae.

– Ectomycorrhizae.
• Presence of hyphae between cortical root cells.
• Roots are covered by sheath, mantle or fungal tissue.
• Mantle increases the surface area by absorbing roots.
• Found on woody plants from shrubs to forest trees.

– Endomycorrhizae.
• Fungus penetrates the host cell and grows within it.
• Fungus is a member of zygomycota.


·         Symbiotic organisms with a photosynthetic partner; algae

·         Algae produces food for itself and fungus

·         Fungus provides water and minerals to algae’

·         Structure: filamentous, gelatinous, shrubby

·         Mode of reproduction: sexual

·         Uses: pollution indicator organisms

·         (from above) lichens are sensitive to manufactured pollutants






Xanthoparmelia cf. lavicola, a foliose lichen, on basalt.

Fungus-Insect Symbiosis


Rumen Fungi

– Gastro intestinal tract of herbivores is nutrient rich and oxygen poor(anaerobic)

– Chytrids

– Wide range of Enzymes

– Works with other microbes to release nutrients, minerals and vitamins to form plant material

– Degrade plant fibres during digestion