“People don’t know very much about the third kingdom on the planet,” said Steven L. Stephenson, research professor of biological sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. “But fungi are a lot more interesting than most people realize.”
Stephenson’s book, The Kingdom Fungi: The Biology of Mushrooms, Molds, and Lichens, published by Timber Press, offers a comprehensive overview of these living organisms that are neither plant nor animal. In the book, Stephenson talks about what fungi are, what forms they take, their role in nature and their influence on humans.
“You can’t get away from fungi. The spores are in the air around you right now,” Stephenson said. “But we don’t notice them until they make an obvious appearance.”
An “obvious appearance” occurs when the spores land somewhere that they can find nourishment – be it a rotting log or a piece of bread left on the counter – then colonize and develop a vegetative body, which is the life stage of a fungus most people see in the forest or on neglected food.
Spoiled food aside, fungi perform essential functions in earth’s ecosystems: They decompose plant material and recycle nutrients back into the soil, which allows more plant growth. Without them, forests and grasslands would die. Fungi also live symbiotically with some plants, including orchids and aspens. Without the unseen fungi, neither of these species could survive.
Fungi also cause problems for some plants. The chestnut blight fungus eliminated the chestnut tree from forests in the eastern United States in less than 50 years. And the fungus that caused the potato blight in Europe changed the course of history, causing people to immigrate to foreign countries.
But before blasting fungi for their pathogenic ways, consider this: If you’ve ever had penicillin to treat an infection, you owe your cure to a fungus. And every time you eat leavened bread, or sit down to socialize with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine, it’s time to thank fungi again.
Despite the clear influence of fungi on human culture, these organisms remain understudied.“We do not know how many fungi there are on the planet,” Stephenson said. Conservative estimates suggest there may be 1.5 million species of fungi, but only about 100,000 have been formally described. Scientists describe about 1,000 new species of fungi each year, but most remain unknown to science.
“We tend to know a lot about fungi where people study fungi,” as in Europe, for instance, Stephenson said. But records in many countries, such as Thailand, and even on some continents, such as Africa, remain scarce. “It’s a matter of not having enough expertise,” he said.Four Fungi Facts
4. Fungi fiction: Mushrooms make an appearance in some of the works of Shakespeare, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth.CONTACTS:
Melissa Lutz Blouin | Newswise Science News
More genes are active in high-performance maize
19.01.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
How plants see light
19.01.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy