Fungi have been accepted as a separate kingdom. Although some of the popular fungi have a plant-shaped or more specifically a tree-shaped structure, it is well accepted that fungi are not plants or animals. They are in a Kingdom all of their own.
Fungi neither prepare their food nor perform photosynthesis. So, fungi are effectively not plants. But fungi are not animals either. Why? One striking reason is that fungi have a cell structure that resembles plants more than animals, even though they are in a kingdom all of their own.
Animal cells don’t have cell walls. Instead, their cells have an outer layer of membrane that is pregnable. Plant and fungal cells have cell walls made of chitins which give these living beings their stiff and rigid structure.
Fungi don’t make their food internally but receive it from external sources. Animals also don’t make their food but receive it in much the same way. This is an important piece of similarity between fungi and animals. Fungi digest their food externally while animals consume the food and digest it internally. Fungi use their hormones to prepare the food which is decomposing the organic matter they are supposed to eat. After decomposing the food, fungi absorb the nutrients.
Most animals are mobile while most of the fungi are not. Fungi remain rooted in the same place while animals make movements in search of food. There are some examples of animals that are not as mobile as the rest. Coral reefs are an example of animals that resemble plants and grow from a stationary position.
Mushrooms have chitins in their cells which help them form the stiff outside walls such as those on coral reefs and lobsters even though to a much lesser degree. Similarly, there are a few fungi that are somewhat mobile. Water molds are one of those few fungi that can travel so to speak.
When it comes to sexual reproduction, fungi have more similarities with plants than animals. Fungi give birth to an outshoot through their pores same as plants do.
With these differences in front of us, we can easily conclude that fungi are neither animals nor plants. Fungi are a separate class of living things. Their basic characteristics are different from both animals and plants. Though some fungi are edible and some others are useful in some way or the other, many types of fungi are simply geared up to infecting plants and animals with diseases, spoiling foods, and set off decay on the surfaces that they grow.
Several important antibiotic medicines in the market are derived from fungi. Some of these medicines are so indispensable that you can’t imagine life without them. This opens up the chapter of the systematic use of fungi as a source of antibiotic medicines.
While the debate continues whether fungi are animals or plants or none of them, fungi have developed mutually beneficial relationships with both plants and animals. Humans benefit a great deal from edible fungi such as mushrooms, yeast, and antibiotics. Similarly, plants benefit a great deal from the presence of fungus webs in their root systems. Without these friendly fungi, 90% of plants and grass would simply die.
What separates animals from plants?
Animals and plants are living things and they have many similarities. But they also have significant differences that make them separate kingdoms. Animals can move around while plants remain rooted in one place. Animals consume food while plants use sunlight for energy. Animals move around and search for their food while plants create their food by a process called photosynthesis. Both animals and plants have cells that carry their DNA. But the structure of the cells is different. Animal cells receive nutrients by absorbing it from food while plant cells use plastids to create their food and energy.
Both animals and plants are made of cells which are the smallest functional units that together constitute every part of the body in a living organism. There are similarities but also significant differences between animal and plant cells.
Plant cells have cell walls that are stiff while animal cells’ outer layer is made of a thin layer of the permeable membrane. The plant cell walls are stiff due to the presence of chitins that give the plants the hardness and upright structure while the porous animal cell membrane allows animal cells to absorb outside substances.
The cells have their structure and parts, too, called organelles. In some cases, animal cells have protrusions called cilia that help the movement of the cells. Plant cells don’t have cilia but they have plastids – a kind of pigment that helps photosynthesis.
Animals have senses. Humans, for example, have 5 senses – touch, taste, sight, scent, and hearing. Although plants have senses they don’t have eyes, nose, skin, ears, and tongues.
Plants use sensory ions and hormones to sense their environment. Plants have a way to sense light as it is an important source of energy for them. Over time, plants seek out the sunlight by slowly moving and leaning towards it. Some plants open their leaves’ pores in the day to take in the sunlight and close them in the night to ensure the moisture does not escape away.
Animals have a complex central nervous system that helps them process different signals into senses. Animals with a spinal cord and a brain are called vertebrates and they have highly developed senses such as those of humans.
What do animals and fungi have in common?
Fungi’s cells have a cell wall and it is made of chitin. Animals like coral reefs use chitin to form hard shells. That’s why they are called an exoskeleton. Animals eat and digest their food internally and fungi take in the nutrients from their food digested externally. Both are heterotrophs — organisms that can’t make their food. Fungi take in their food like animals, rather than the plants that use photosynthesis for their food and energy. Both fungal and animal cells contain centrioles. They play an important role in mitosis or cell division. Some fungi are motile, for example, water molds. Both animals and fungi store carbohydrates as a food called glycogen. This is a characteristic most animals have. Fungi are considered more similar to animals than plants. The fungus is in Latin means mushroom.
Do fungi have more in common with plants or animals?
Although the fungus is now classified as a distinct kingdom separate from animals and plants, it has similarities to both. For a long time, the fungus was considered a plant because of its plant-like shape, rigid structure, and root-like structures. They commonly grow on soil or dead wood. But now, they are considered more similar to animals than plants. This is because both fungi and animals do not use photosynthesis to prepare their food. The cell structure of fungi is also more similar to animals than that of plants. Both have stiff outer walls in their cells, something that gives them their structure and hardness of the surface. Chitin found in the fungi cells is also found in some animal cells such as lobsters and coral reefs.
The fungus is similar to both animals and plants as all of them have eukaryotic cells that are capable of carrying genetic material. All of these living beings have DNA stored in the nucleus of the cells. Both plants and fungi have organelles in their cells. Both plants and fungi usually don’t move.
What are the 5 groups of fungi?
The fungus is a separate kingdom unrelated to both animals and plants but has similarities to both. There are 5 major groups of fungus. The group is called phylum (singular) and phyla (plural). The phyla are based on the way fungus engages in sexual reproduction.
The five fungus phyla are Chytridiomycota (Chytrids), Basidiomycota (club fungi), Ascomycota (sac fungi), Zygomycota (conjugated fungi), and Phylum Glomeromycota. There is one more type of fungus and it is called Deuteromycota. This is an informal group of fungi that use asexual reproduction.
The only type of Phylum Chytridiomycota is Chytridiomycetes or chytrids. This is the most primitive and the simplest type of fungi also called true fungi (Eumycota). The first chytrids came into being about 500 million years ago. While chytrids had chitin in the cell walls, some varieties had both chitin and cellulose. Chytrids are mostly unicellular but a few of them could be multicellular hyphae or even organisms. The chytrids’ cell structure and ecological habitat have a lot of similarities to those of protists. While chytrids can be found on land, it is mostly an aquatic fungus. Some chytrids may be found on plants, amphibians, and insects.
Zygomycota is a conjugated fungus. Phylum Zygomycota fungus has a small group of fungus called zygomycetes. This kind of fungus is commonly found on the surface of fruits, vegetables, and bread. It grows and spreads very quickly. Most of the zygomycetes thrive on decaying organic substances. Some are even parasites of insects. Zygomycetes are commercially produced and sold as metabolic products in synthetic steroids.
Ascomycota is also called Sac Fungi. Most of the known fungi are Phylum Ascomycota. This kind of fungus is characterized by a sac-like formation. Several ascomycetes are used commercially. For example, yeasts are used in brewing, baking, and fermentation of wine. Truffles and morels are gourmet delicacies. Fungus Aspergillus oryzae is widely used for the fermentation of rice to make sake. Many ascomycetes live off animals including humans and plants as parasites. Fungal pneumonia is known to hit AIDS patients whose immune system is weakened. Ascomycetes infest and destroy standing crops.
Basidiomycota is also called The Club Fungi. The Fungi belonging to Phylum Basidiomycota have a peculiar club shape that can be seen and recognized under a microscope. These club-shaped bodies are called basidia and they are reproductive organs. They are often present on the common mushroom seen in the fields or on the shelves of the supermarket. These mushrooms are sometimes called “gill fungi” as there is a gill-like structure under the mushroom’s cap. Most edible fungi come from Phylum Basidiomycota. But care should be taken as some basidiomycetes are known for producing deadly toxins. In particular, Cryptococcus neoformans are associated with severe respiratory illness.
Glomeromycota is a new phylum and it has about 230 species under it. All these fungi species live closely at the roots of the trees. These fungi share a long evolutionary history as symbionts of the trees’ roots. The hyphae form a mutually beneficial association and interact with the trees’ root cells. The roots supply carbon and carbohydrates for the fungus to survive while the fungi work with the soil and supply essential minerals to the plant.
Glomeromycetes can’t survive without plant roots and do not reproduce sexually. About 90% of plants have this kind of mutually beneficial interaction with fungi. These fungi have large web-like spreads underground and many times these webs connect the roots of many trees. This helps plants to communicate and send each other signals and nutrients to each other. Sometimes, a plant may send toxic substances to a competing plant.
What are the beneficial functions of fungi in nature?
Fungi perform many important roles in the overall scheme of nature. They are one of the most active decomposers found in nature. They decompose complex compounds such as lignin and cellulose in plant debris. Fungi play a very important part in recycling nutrients. They can penetrate spores and solid substrates. They have developed mutually beneficial relationships with a wide array of organisms. Fungi are parasites that can penetrate host organisms.
How do fungi benefit humans?
Fungi offer a wide range of products used by humans. These products include food, alcohol, antibiotics, organic acids, growth-promoting substances, amino acids, and enzymes. Fungi also give us beneficial microorganisms like yeasts and mushrooms. They live off dead or living plants or animals. They help decompose dead plants and animals. They are the primary decomposer of organic substances in the biosphere. They are a powerful decomposer of organic waste and attack complex substances such as cellulose, gums, lignins readily, and vigorously.
Fungi can do their work both in acidic and alkaline soils. They can play their basic role in many different physiological processes. They can help and enhance the plants’ flexibility to assess and cope with ecological stress like heat, cold, drought, salinity, and metals.
Fungi are often considered a cause of diseases and spoiling of food. But they help human life in many ways. Fungi play an important role in the nutrient cycle and are responsible for the well being of human beings. They are animal pathogens that prevent the growth of damaging pests. The fungi attack insects in a very specific manner and in doing so they don’t infect plants and animals. Fungi are being considered to be used as microbial insecticides, with some products already hitting the market.
The mutually beneficial relationship that fungi have with plant roots is very essential for agricultural productivity. If the fungi don’t support the root system, up to 90% of trees and grasses will die away. Mycorrhizal fungal inoculants are being supplied by gardening stores as soil amendments. This is also being promoted by the supporters of organic farming.
Some types of fungi such as mushrooms are very popular as human food. Other fungi such as morels, shiitake mushrooms, truffles, and chanterelles are considered delicacies. Agaricus campestris or the meadow mushroom forms part of many dishes. Genus Penicillium molds play an important role in the ripening of many kinds of cheese.
Fungi also help in the fermentation of beers and wines that are made from grains and fruits respectively. This kind of fermentation is performed by using wild yeast from the environment. The process involves fermentation of sugar into ethyl alcohol and CO2 under an oxygen-less (anaerobic) environment
Now, commercially-produced wild yeast strains are available. Saccharomyces cerevisiae or the strain of brewer’s yeast was developed by Louis Pasteur in the late 1850s for the French brewing industry. This was perhaps one of the earliest examples of biotechnology.
Many types of antibiotics have been isolated from fungi for use as medicine. These secondary metabolites are now commercially produced and marketed as antibiotics. Fungi naturally produce antibiotics to limit their competition from bacteria. The antibiotics produced by fungi work in the same way as popular antibiotic medicines. They kill and prevent the growth of bacteria. There are many fungi-derived antibiotics that work as great highly useful medicines.
Since fungi cells are similar to human cells as they all belong to eukaryotic cells, fungi have been a key component of research in genome and genetics. For this reason, yeast is good for research in DNA technology as its cell structure and human cell structure have many similarities.
Fungi are neither plant nor animal. They have characteristics that can be categorized either as those of animals or plants. They are a different class of living things, a separate kingdom. The smallest fungi cannot be seen from bare eyes. You need a microscope to see such fungi while the largest fungus may extend many miles.
The fungus is a diverse kingdom with at least 5 broad categories. Nearly, all fungi live as parasites on dead and live plants and animals. Fungi are the primary decomposers in the ecosystem. It attacks complex substances such as cellulose that are found in large amounts in plant debris. They are the chief agents of recycling nutrients in all terrestrial habitats. Their similarities to plants or animals are only incidental. Fungi are decisively a different category of living things vast and diverse enough to be called a separate fungal kingdom.