Important characteristic features of Kingdom Fungi and types of Fungi


Fungi are a group of multicellular, eukaryotic, heterotrophic organisms found everywhere in nature. This article explains the important characteristic features of fungi and the different types of fungi present in nature.

Introduction

Fungi are a group of organisms popularly known as 'colourless plants' because they do not include a coloured pigment called chlorophyll which is present in plants. These organisms show some peculiar features when compared to the features of other groups of organisms in the Five Kingdom System of classification. Fungi group of organisms include more than 10,000 different kinds of organisms. These organisms play a very important economic role in nature.

Different types of Fungi
Different Types of Fungi (Courtesy:-www.wikipedia.org)

Important characteristic features of Fungi


  • Fungi organisms vary in their size as some are so tiny that can be seen only under the microscope while others can be seen as large masses. Yeast, Rhizopus (Bread Mold), Aspergillus, Penicillin, etc. can be observed under a microscope. Mushrooms and Puffballs are macroscopic. Fungi grow best in moist and warm temperature.

  • Fungi organisms do not have chlorophyll and hence they can not prepare their own food like plants. So they follow the heterotrophic mode of nutrition. Some fungi adopt a saprophytic mode of nutrition where these organisms get their food from dead and decaying organisms. Ex:- Rhizopus, Agaricus (Mushrooms). Some Fungi are parasites and get their food from plant and animal host organisms.

  • The body of Fungi are usually made up of long, thin thread-like structures that become interwoven to form an entangled mass called "Mycelium'. The small bits of fungal mycelium is known as 'hyphae'. The hyphae are filament-like structures that are made up of many cells. Cells of some fungi are with cell walls or without cell walls. Cell walls of Fungi are made up of chitin or fungal cellulose. Hyphae of some fungi are white or grey, blue, green, orange because of different pigments present in them.

  • Most of the fungi are aerobic and use free oxygen present in the atmosphere for their respiration. Ex:- Rhizopus, Mushrooms. Some fungi respire in the absence of oxygen. Ex:-Yeast, Fusarium, Penicillium.

  • All fungi reproduce asexually by forming an innumerable number of tiny round bodies called spores. These spores have hard protective coverings around them. The spores are carried off in all directions by the wind. If these spores fall on favourable conditions like moisture, favourable temperature, suitable food supply the spores germinate to form fungi. But if they fall in unfavourable conditions, the spores remain dormant and alive for a long period of time till they get favourable conditions.

  • Most of the fungi reproduce by sexually by gametes. The male gametes are sperms and the female gametes are eggs. The male gamete and female gamete fuse together during fertilization to form a zygote. The zygote then germinates to form mycelium of fungi and then they start producing spores.

Types of Fungi

Fungi usually occur in different forms like Molds, Mildews, Rusts and Smuts, Mushrooms, Yeasts, and Lichens.

Molds are multicellular hyphae bearing fungal organisms that grow in warm, dark, damp places. Some Molds even grow in freezing temperatures. Molds can mostly grow on foods, leather, paper, and wood. Some molds are saprophytic and some other molds are parasitic. Many molds spoil food and damage fruits. Some parasitic water molds kill fish and other sea animals. Molds are also used in making Roquefort, Camembert, and Limburger type of cheeses. Antibiotics like Penicillin, Streptomycin, Aureomycin, etc. are prepared from fungal molds.

Mildews are whitish fungi that grow exclusively on moist surfaces. Mildews grow on plant and animal tissues, wood, paper, clothing, leather, etc. Some mildews are downy and attack such plants as radishes, potatoes, cereal grains, sugar cane, and tobacco. Some mildews are powdery and attacks grapes, apples, clover, roses, lilacs, phlox. Black mildew is often found on clothes exposed to dampness for a long time. Most of the mildews are parasites and reproduce by spores.

Rusts and Smuts are parasitic fungi. Rusts produce reddish-brown spores that look like rust. These rusts destroy such plants like wheat, apple trees, pine trees, roses, oranges, and melons. Smuts produce blackish spores and destroy cereal grains, such as corn, oats, barley, and wheat.

Mushrooms are the largest type of fungi present in nature. They have an umbrella-shaped appearance arranged over a vertical stipe. They are saprophytic and mostly live on dead plant and animal matter. They reproduce through spores. Some variety of mushrooms are edible and are highly nutritious which provides high-quality nutrients along with minerals. Puffballs are one kind of mushrooms which round or pear-shaped appearance. Examples for Puffballs:- Bovista, Lycoperdon, Calvatia.

Yeasts are tiny oval single-celled fungi. Yeasts are widely used in bakery and brewery industries because they help in the fermentation process. They help in making bread and various types of alcohol. Yeasts help in breaking down sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Yeasts are also helpful in synthesizing B2 vitamin in their cells.

Lichens are special kind of organisms which include two living components-one of its living component is an algal organism and the other living component is the fungal organism. These two living components exist together as one organism helping each other mutually. This type of mutual association between two organisms is known as a symbiotic association. Lichens may be green, red, orange, yellow or brown depending upon the two different components present in them. Lichens primarily grow on bare rocks and make the rock crumble and turn into soil. Reindeers use lichens as their food. Lichens are used in making litmus paper, dyes and in tanning hides for leather. More commonly, the lichens are also used as food in China, Japan, and Iceland.


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