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Fungi

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Fungi

What exactly is a fungus?

They're not animals or plants, and definitely not protists. So they cannot photosynthesize or eat. And they are much more than mushrooms.

Characteristics of Fungi

Do you see the organisms growing on the bread in the Figure below ? They belong to the Kingdom Fungi . Molds growing on foods are some of the most common fungi in our everyday lives. These organisms may seem useless and gross, but fungi play a very important role in almost every land ecosystem on Earth.

The mold growing on this bread is a common fungus.

Fungi (which is the plural for fungus) are another Kingdom of Life. They are eukaryotes because they have a nucleus and their cell parts in in 'packages.' The fungi kingdom may contain more than a million species, but less than 100,000 have been identified!  As shown in the Figure below , fungi include mushrooms, yeasts, and molds.

Several examples of fungi are pictured here.

Most fungi are multicellular, but some are just single cells (unicellular). Single-celled fungi are known as yeasts.  Like the cells of protists and plants, the cells of fungi have cell walls . But fungi are unique because they have cell walls made of chitin instead of cellulose. Chitin is a tough carbohydrate that also makes up the outer skeleton of insects. To reproduce, fungi make a reproductive cell called a spore.

Habitats of Fungi

Fungi are found all around the world, and grow in a wide range of habitats, including deserts. Most grow on land, but several species live only in aquatic habitats. Most fungi live in soil or dead matter.  This is how they get their energy (food) to survive.   Fungi and bacteria in soil, are the primary decomposers of organic matter in ecosystems. They break down dead organisms and return nutrients to the soil. 

Vocabulary

  • chitin : Tough carbohydrate that makes up the cell walls of fungi and the exoskeletons of insects and other arthropods.
  • fungi (singular, fungus ): Kingdom in the domain Eukarya that includes molds, mushrooms, and yeasts.
  • molds : Fungi that grow in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae.
  • yeast : Fungi that grow as single-celled organisms.

Summary

  • Fungi are a kingdom in the domain Eukarya that includes molds, mushrooms, and yeasts.
  • Most fungi are multicellular. They are unique in having cell walls made of chitin.
  • Most fungi live on dead matter or soil. Some live in aquatic habitats. Many are involved in symbiotic relationships.

Practice I

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. How do fungi obtain nutrients?
  2. How are fungi similar to plants?
  3. How do fungi and plants differ?

Practice II

Review

1. What are fungi?

2. Explain the significance of the chitin cell wall of fungi.

3. List several habitats where fungi live.

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