There are thousands of species of fungi in the world. Some of these can be harmful to humans, but others can be eaten in salads or on burgers. It is important to know the difference, which is why fungi are down into seven different identifiable types.
What are fungi?
Fungi is plural for the word fungus, which is a Kingdom of multi-celled organisms. At one time, fungi were considered to be a part of the Plant Kingdom, as they share many characteristics with things such as flowers, trees and other greenery. However, subsequent studies have shown that fungi do not produce their own food like plants do, which has led to fungi being classified as their own Kingdom.
Fungi are a very diverse group, as there are many, many different types. Most have multiple cells, others are single-celled, while still others can move between forms at various stages of their life cycle. When it comes to reproduction, fungi can reproduce either on their own or with another mushroom (as they are both sexual and asexual), making them even harder to classify. They need food to live like animals do, and yet they are not like any animals we have ever seen. This is the reason why they were given their own Kingdom.
When most people think of fungi, they automatically think of mushrooms. While this is, indeed, one type of fungi, there are many others, some of which have more in common with bacteria. Some can spread illnesses in people and animals, and their ingestion could even be fatal.
Types of fungi broken down by Phyla
There are seven “Phyla” or “types” of fungi within the Fungi Kingdom, with Basidiomycota and Ascomycota being the most common. They are differentiated by the different ways that they look, act, or reproduce. They can also be told apart by the place where they are most commonly found. Here is a look at these seven types, and what makes them different from the others.
- Basidiomycota – Basidiomycota are what comes to mind when one pictures a typical mushroom. Toadstools also belong to this family, as do rusts, chanterelles, and earth stars. What you see when you look at this fungus is actually only a small part of it. Most of the fungus is hidden underground or within the surface of the trees or other objects they grow out of. These mushrooms have the ability to cause decay in wood or other substances and are often found in dark, dank places. They are, however, the most commonly seen type of fungi, and some of them can actually be quite beautiful.
- Ascomycota – This group includes some very important historical fungi. Penicillin belongs to this Phyla, as do the decadent and expensive truffles that are often eaten as a delicacy. These fungi have fruiting bodies, meaning that they produce an edible substance that is often collected by humans or animals for consumption. Ascomycota also includes most of the yeasts in existence and multiple types of molds. It is a very diverse group, and there are thousands of smaller species within just this one Phyla.
- Microsporidia – Microsporidia are, like the name suggests, microscopic organisms. They are so small that they are invisible to the human eye, and are mostly known for their interactions with beetles and other small insects. They infect the beetles, often causing death.
- Chytridiomycota – Chytridiomycota have been known to humans since ancient times. They are nearly as old as the Earth itself, they are a bit of a frightening species. Their claim to fame is that they have the capability to break down and digest proteins like the ones found in human hair and skin, as well as in the tough shells of insects and animals.
- Blastocladiomycota – This type of fungi is fairly common, and can be found among soil. They live off of detritus, which is waste produced mostly by dead or dying organisms. This detritus often makes up a large part of the soil, which is why Blastocladiomycota thrives here.
- Neocallimastigomycota – Neocallimastigomycota might sound like a frightening type of fungi, but in reality, this is a very beneficial Phyla. Living within the intestinal tract of animals that consume grass, such as sheep, cows, and goats, these fungi help to break down the tough fibers found in plants. They then produce a simpler carbohydrate, which then fills up the animal as normal food would.
- Glomeromycota – This family of fungi lives among Liverworts, a flowerless plant that has no roots and reproduces via the use of spores. Liverworts and Glomeromycota have a symbiotic relationship, meaning that they are both mutually beneficial to the life cycle of the other. One cannot survive without the other, which is why these two are often found together.
Examples of fungi in everyday life
Fungi are not as well-known as related organisms like bacteria or plants, but that does not make them any less important to our ecosystem. Many of us see fungi on a daily basis, but may just not realize it. Here are some examples of fungi found in the home:
Some of these fungi actually live inside of the human body. Yeasts, specifically, can be found inside us at any time, and nearly three-fourths of all women will have an infection from this yeast during their lifetime.
You can also find fungi growing on food that has spoiled. While this can make humans sick, there are also some molds and fungi that are introduced to food on purpose, to give it a distinctive flavor. Cheeses such as brie, bleu cheese, and gorgonzola are all soft cheeses that are treated with these fungi to give them a sharper taste. There is nothing wrong with eating these cheeses, and in this case, the fungus is harmless.
It is important to be able to differentiate between the different types of mushrooms, though, as not all of them are as innocuous as the ones used to help age the cheeses mentioned above. The more you know about fungi, the more safely you can manage your household.
That being said, though, in most cases, there is nothing to fear from a large portion of the fungi we encounter, in spite of the fact that most of it grows in dark, unsavory places.