Fungal uses: Food, Pesticide, Decomposers and Drugs

The following is an excerpt from an article titled “Useful Fungi”  found in Biology @Suite101  

“From the microscopic yeasts to the largest mushrooms, many fungi have proved to be beneficial to both humans and the environment. Members of the fungal kingdom, present in the soil, air, water and other living organisms, represent a wide range of species. Many are harmful, causing damage to crops and diseases in humans and animals. A large number of fungi, however, are of immense use, both to humans and to the environment in general.  

Fungi as Decomposers 

Many fungi play an important role in decomposing organic matter, and are thus instrumental in the cycling of minerals. In natural systems, for instance, species of Trichoderma, Phanerochaeta, Penicillium, Fusarium and Agaricus contain enzymes capable of digesting both the lignin and cellulose in dead forest trees and leaf litter. Valuable carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous are subsequently returned to the soil.  

Some species of Rhizopus and Aspergillus can in fact decompose chemical pollutants such as aniline and benzene, while certain strains of Penicillium can degrade plasticisers, insecticides and herbicides. Moreover, the ability of fungi such as Cladosporium resinae to utilize hydrocarbons has been investigated as a possible solution to oil spillage issues. 

The advantage of fungal, as opposed to bacterial, decomposition, is that most fungi develop far -reaching threads, or ‘hyphae’, which can penetrate and digest a larger area of organic waste than bacterial colonies. Examples include the hyphae of Mucor species (see figure 1), which grow quickly under favourable conditions, secreting hydrolytic enzymes as they spread over nutrient-rich organic matter. 

Drugs from Fungi 

The most recognized fungus in the medical world is the Penicillium mould, found by Alexander Fleming in 1928 to inhibit the growth of bacteria. The antibiotic, Penicillin, was subsequently isolated from Penicillium chrysogenum and developed into workable concentrations by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. Cephalosporium and Aspergillus species are also used in the production of antibiotics.” 


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