Fungi Are Fascinating Organisms. They Aren’t Animals, They Aren’t Plants. But What Is a Fungus And How Important Are Fungi? Here Are 21 Fungi Facts That Fascinate People
- Science has identified around 144,000 different types of fungi. But there are probably between 2-4 million in total. Many are found in garden and other soil. Fungi are a hidden web of life that is everywhere, is essential to life on earth and is only now being recognised for their importance.
2. I say web of life because fungi comprise fungal webs of life with the occasional fruiting body which we often call mushrooms.
3. Blue whales were often thought to be the biggest life form on earth but an individual fungus can be much bigger.
4. Genetic fingerprinting of fungi in the USA have found several individual fungi that make Blue whales look miniature. For example there’s an Armillaria ostoyae that’s been measured and estimated to live in 2384 acres of Oregon soil.
5. Though Blue whales are heavy, the above fungi dwarfs it. It weighs in at well over 100 tons. Some are much heavier.
6. And the oldest organisms on earth include fungi. The big ones in the US are thought to be between 2400 and 8650 years old.
7. Fungal hyphae, that web of mycelium that can spread so far, is made from chitin. Chitin is the same substance that insects use to make their exoskeletons. It’s also the same substance as crabs and lobsters use to make their shells.
8. Fungi aren’t closely related to insects. And they aren’t plants. They are a form of life that science is only just beginning to delve into.
9. It’s not that we didn’t know about fungi before. We’ve know about them for millennia. But we hadn’t realised how many there were and how important they are.
10. Fungi make our bread rise, ferments our beer and wine and gave us antibiotics. There’s strong evidence that fungi have been used in brewing for 9000 years. But more of that in a future post.
More Fungi Facts Below!
11. Plastics may yet save us from the plastic scourge. A recently discover fungus is capable of breaking down plastic in weeks. If we can harness it perhaps we can start to recycle plastic properly.
12. Some plastics owe their existence to fungi. For example Lego is made from itaconic acid which comes from fungi.
13. Mushrooms are now commonly sold in supermarkets. But did you know there are at least 350 species of frequently eaten by humans. Without fungi we wouldn’t have Marmite, truffles, quorn, cheese and many other fungal based foods.
14. Lysergic Acid (LSD) comes from a fungus. It’s not the only hallucinogen that is fungi derived, magic mushrooms are another of the hundreds we know about.
15. Ergot, Claviceps purpurea, infects cereals (specially Rye) and in the Middle Ages frequently caused a disease called St Anthonys Fire. Those affected went of trips caused by the LSD in the ergot. And many died from the affliction as it also caused dry gangerene and other symptoms.
17. Mycelium can also be used as a leather substitute … to make vegan leather.
18. Fungi are vital to life on earth. Fungi is the organism responsible for dead organic material decomposing. If it didn’t exist we would be miles deep in waste. When it decomposes organic matter it feels up nutrients such as nitrogen that new plants need to grow.
19. Fungi can go into “suspended animation: for centuries and then spring back into life. For example, fungo can penetrate the branches of your trees and sit there dormant for centuries. When a branch falls to the ground the fungi springs back into life and decomposes the dead organic material.
20. Fungi can be used to control pests. They are classed as biopesticides. For example, Hypomycetic fungi are “good” fungi that parasitise other (often bad) fungi.
21. Fungi exist almost everywhere, even in the human body. But they are also used to produce statins which keep many people alive!
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