What are Fungi?
Fungi (singular: fungus) are a group of eukaryotic living organisms that belong to the Kingdom Fungi. They are also known as the “death eater” because they consume dead and decaying matter. Fungi can be a single cellular organism like yeast or a multicellular organism such as mushrooms.
Unlike plants, they cannot produce their own food. Instead, they depend on one of the 3 ways to obtain their food:
- Mutualistic relationships
Fungi primarily depend on the dead and decaying for their nutrition. They release enzymes that can break down the organic matter into substances, which is then absorbed by them.
One of the other modes of nutrition for fungi is parasitism. Monilinia fructicola is the fungi that cause a disease known as the Brown Rot in peaches. In most of the cases, they can be toxic and can cause infections and other ill-effects which adversely affects an organism.
The domestic animals are prone to fungal infections. One of the most common diseases in cattle and sheep is facial eczema, caused by the fungus Pithomyces chartarum. Sometimes, these parasitic fungi are so destructive that they can wipe out a whole species. The fungi Chytria Batrachocytriumdendrobatidis is responsible for the extinction of Archer’s frog in New Zealand.
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as the “zombie ant fungi” can manipulate the brain of ants. When an ant comes across the spores of this fungi, it gets infected and spreads throughout the ant body. Once inside, the fungi release chemicals that take over the central nervous system of ants. They manipulate the ants’ brain to climb over vegetation. They permanently clamp down on the underside of the leaf using their mandibles. Then, they begin to rain down the spores on other unsuspecting ants below, restarting the lifecycle of the fungi.
Not all fungi cause diseases. Some are benevolent as they provide their hosts something beneficial in return. For instance, lichens are technically a compound organism – meaning that they are not a single entity. It consists of fungi and algae that rely on each other. The fungus shields the algae from harsh environmental conditions and the algae can photosynthesize, providing essential nutrients for the fungi in return.
Uses of Fungi
Fungi are also an important part of the environment. They are used in various fields such as culinary, agriculture, medicine etc.
- It is also useful for the ecosystem in breaking down dead plants and animals into humus, an organic material that makes the soil very fertile.
- Fungi are very important in the production of various antibiotics.
- They are also very effective bio-pesticides.
- Some fungi are considered a delicacy and are highly sought after – example: truffles.
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