Portal:Fungi


The Fungi Portal

A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are inconspicuous to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce.

Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Coprinellus micaceus is a common species of fungus in the family Psathyrellaceae with a cosmopolitan distribution. The fruit bodies of the saprobe typically grow in clusters on or near rotting hardwood tree stumps or underground tree roots. Depending on their stage of development, the tawny-brown mushroom caps may range in shape from oval to bell-shaped to convex, and reach diameters up to 3 cm (1.2 in). The caps, marked with fine radial grooves that extend nearly to the center, rest atop whitish stems up to 10 cm (3.9 in) long. In young specimens, the entire cap surface is coated with a fine layer of reflective mica-like cells that provide the inspiration for both the mushroom's species name and the common names mica cap, shiny cap, and glistening inky cap. Although small and with thin flesh, the mushrooms are usually bountiful, as they typically grow in dense clusters. A few hours after collection, the gills will begin to slowly dissolve into a black, inky, spore-laden liquid—an enzymatic process called autodigestion or deliquescence. The fruit bodies are edible before the gills blacken and dissolve, and cooking will stop the autodigestion process.

The microscopic characteristics and cytogenetics of C. micaceus are well known, and it has been used frequently as a model organism to study cell division and meiosis in Basidiomycetes. Chemical analysis of the fruit bodies has revealed the presence of antibacterial and enzyme-inhibiting compounds. Formerly known as Coprinus micaceus, the species was transferred to Coprinellus in 2001 as phylogenetic analyses provided the impetus for a reorganization of the many species formerly grouped together in the genus Coprinus. Based on external appearance, C. micaceus is virtually indistinguishable from C. truncorum, and it has been suggested that many reported collections of the former may be of the latter.

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Mycena acicula, commonly known as the orange bonnet, or the coral spring mycena, is a species of fungus in the family Mycenaceae. It is found in Asia, the Caribbean, North America and Europe. The fruit bodies, or mushrooms, of the fungus grow on dead twigs and other woody debris of forest floors, especially along streams and other wet places. They have small orange-red caps, up to 1 cm (0.4 in) in diameter, held by slender yellowish stems up to 6 cm (2.4 in) long. The gills are pale yellow with a whitish edge. Several other Mycena species look similar, but may be distinguished by differences in size and/or microscopic characteristics. M. acicula is considered inedible because of its small size.

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Credit: JJ Harrison
A collection of Mycena interrupta, a saprobic mushroom species.

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