The body of a fungus is made of thread-like structures called hyphae. These form a branching tangle known as a mycelium. The mycelium of a fungus is located in the medium that is providing food for the fungus. Examples of this medium include soil, decaying wood and human food.
|A mushroom seen and photographed on one of my walks|
A mushroom is made of compacted hyphae. Its function is to produce and distribute the reproductive spores of the fungus. Mushrooms have a wide variety of shapes, forms, sizes and colours and are interesting to observe.
Mushrooms are popular as food. This is definitely a great benefit of fungi, as long as the mushrooms are edible and not poisonous. There are many other ways in which fungi help us, however. Some of these are listed below.
- Penicillium chrysogenum and other fungi produce penicillin, an antibiotic that fights bacteria that make us sick.
- Cephalosporins are also antibiotics produced by fungi.
- Cyclosporine A is a fungal chemical that acts as an immunosuppressant in humans. This substance is useful in situations such as organ transplants where doctors want to stop the patient's immune system from destroying the donated organ or tissue.
- Ergot alkaloids constrict blood vessels, which can help to relieve migraine pain. These chemicals have to be used carefully, however, because they are potentially dangerous.
- Aspergillus terreus produces lovastatin, which lowers high blood cholesterol.
- Some species of Penicillium are added to blue cheese. The fungi produce blue-green veins in the cheese and add a distinctive flavour.
- Miso is made of soybeans fermented by a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae.
- Yeasts are used to make bread rise. Unlike other fungi, yeasts generally consist of single cells instead of hyphae.
- Kombucha is made of tea fermented by yeast and bacteria.