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Fungus Among Us

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It is amazing to think that an accidental observation led to the production of one of the most widely used antibiotics still in use today. Furthermore, it is even more amazing that this antibiotic derived from a fungus. In 1928 a bacteriologist by the name of Alexander Fleming, while working on a project, made an observation on a contaminated culture plate of staphylococci by a mold. He noticed a bacteria-free circle around the mold growth and discontinued his project to focus on his accidental observation. The mold, a member of the fungi kingdom, was isolated and identified as Penicillium Notatum. When the mold was allowed to grow on culture plates and different bacteria were streaked across the plate; Fleming observed that some grew up to the mold while others were inhibited. This observation made Fleming conclude that Penicillium Notatum produced an antibacterial substance that inhibited some bacteria while not inhibiting others. The antibiotic produced from this member of the Fungi Kingdom is what we now know as Penicillin (Wennergren & Lagercrantz, 2006).
Mold is just one member of the Fungi Kingdom. Fungi can be found everywhere in the world including the air, water, soil and on plants or animals. The fungi reproduction cycle is truly unique compared to all other eukaryotic organisms. They produce sexually and asexually with some organisms of fungi only reproducing asexually (Liang, 2005). During the life cycle of fungi they produce spores and from these spores haploid hyphae grow, split and branch out. For which this process may give rise to asexual sporangia, which is a special hyphae that produces spores without undergoing meiosis (Berkeley, 2008). In fungi the zygote is the only diploid cell and when two mating types fuse; the two nuclei coexist until the right conditions are present. After fusion is completed, under the right conditions, it results in the diploid zygote and immediately undergoes meiosis to return to the haploid state. These two different mating types of the nuclei is the dikaryotic stage resulting in the formations of spores for distribution, therefore repeating the cycle. (Liang, 2005). Some fungi referred to as Fungi Imperfecti, which include athlete’s foot and the fungus in bleu cheese, have lost the ability for sexual reproduction and reproduce by asexual spores or vegetative growth only. Yeasts reproduce primarily through a process known as fission or by fragmentation by which they break apart and grow into a new organism (Berkeley, 1998).
This reproduction process results in a structure of their biology that is classified as a filamentous dikaryotic organism. These organisms’ cell structure looks like a tangled network of very fine threads tubular in form connected end to end forming a body identified as mycelium. It is important to note that when reproductive hyphae are produced they form a structure called a sporocarp which is commonly known as a mushroom. The sporocarps’ sole function is to release spores and is not the living and growing portion of the fungus (Berkeley, 1998).
There are four groups of fungi classification: Chytridiomycota (chytrids), Zygomycota (zygomycetes) which are bread molds, Ascomycota (ascomycetes), which are yeast and sac fungi, and Basidiomycota (basidiomycetes), which are club fungi (Liang, 2005). Fungi cell walls in all fungi are made mostly of the carbohydrate chitin. In chytrids and zygomycetes the individual cells are coenocytic which are indistinct between each other resembling filaments that are long and tubular with a cytoplasm lining and large vacuole located in the center. Conversely, the ascomycetes and basidiomycetes are septate with their filaments being partitioned by cellular cross-walls called septa which varies (Berkeley, 1998).
Fungi consume nutrients unlike animals or plants, instead they are classified as heterotrophs obtaining the nutrients required to survive by absorption rather than ingestion or manufacturing their own food. There are two classifications of how fungi feed: Saprophytic and Parasitic. Saprophytic fungi secrete enzymes to break down dead organic material and parasitic fungi attach themselves to a living host in order to obtain their required nutrients. (Berkeley, 1998).
Fungi is both beneficial and harmful to human beings. There have been some species of fungi that have proven to degrade insecticides, herbicides, fuels and uranium in a field called bioremediation which helps improve the environment in which we live (Jian-Zhen, 2013). Furthermore, other fungi have produced a food source such as cheese, bread, beer, and mushrooms which provides sustenance, used in religious, social and recreational scenarios. Fungi has also been manipulated to produce medicine and bio friendly industrial chemicals (Wennergren & Lagercrantz, 2006).
Conversely, fungi has had detrimental impacts on human’s health as well, such as bacteria and viruses, with some fungi even acting as pathogens or toxins. Some fungal infections can be mild such as a rash or mild respiratory illness, while others can be severe, leading to serious complications or resulting in death (CDC, 2013).
Despite the positives and negatives of fungi, it is detrimental to all living organisms in this world providing balance and sometimes even helping an organism grow and survive.
References
Berkeley. Fungi. In Fungi: Life History and Ecology. (1998). Retrieved Nov 17, 2013, from http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fungi/fungilh.html
Fungal Diseases. (2013). Retrieved Nov 20, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/
Jian-Zhen, M., Xun, Z., Ming-Fei, L., & Feng, X. (2013). Effect of Biological
Pretreatment with White-rot Fungus Trametes hirsuta C7784 on Lignin Structure in Carex meyeriana Kunth. Bioresources, 8(3), 3869-3883.
Liang, B. Fungi. In The Fungi Kingdom: Common Characteristics of Fungi. Retrieved
Nov 13, 2013, from http://www.wisc-online.com
Wennergren, G., & Lagercrantz, H. (2007). "One sometimes finds what one is not looking for" (Sir Alexander Fleming): the most important medical discovery of the 20th century. Acta Paediatrica,96(1), 141-144. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2007.00098.x

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