Curious World of Fungi
Animals take in and digest food, whereas fungi digest their food externally after absorbing nutrients firsthand from the environment. Unlike animal cells, the fungal cells contain cell walls. What’s more, animals are mobile creatures, while only a few fungal cells are mobile.
What Is Fungi?
Hundreds of thousands of organisms, ranging from yeasts mildews, mushrooms, and molds to rusts, fall under kingdom fungi classification. They are among the world’s most distributed organisms. Most fungi live freely on water or soils, whereas others establish themselves through symbiotic or parasitic relationships with animals or plants.
The once viewed simply as plants, fungi emerged as their distinct taxonomic Kingdom. These diverse set of fungal species carry numerous unique properties, some non-toxic, some harmful, and others useful.
What Are The 5 Groups of Fungi?
Fungi are classified into five phyla. These include Zygomycota, Ascomycota, Basidiomycota, Chytridiomycota, and Glomeromycota. Check out the following descriptions of these various phyla.
Zygomycetes are mainly terrestrial organisms that feed off decaying animal material or plant detritus. They might cause problems if they develop on food resources. The most common example of a zygomycete is bread mold. Their hyphae are not separated by septa, making the mycelia typically one big cell with numerous nuclei. Like most fungi, they reproduce asexually via spores.
Ascomycetes are mainly pathogens of animals and plants, humans inclusive. These fungi are primarily responsible for ringworms, an athlete’s’ foot, and deadly ergotism accompanied by symptoms such as convulsions, hallucinations, and vomiting. Nevertheless, some ascomycetes reside in the human body, i.e., Candida albicans- found in either the respiratory, reproductive, or gastrointestinal tract. Like most fungi, they reproduce asexually using spores.
Typically, Basidiomycetes also referred to as club fungi, are club-shaped. A typical example is a mushroom. Most basidiomycetes will reproduce sexually. Nevertheless, others will produce spores through cells known as basidia, meaning they reproduce asexually.
Chytrids are the organisms falling under phylum Chytridiomycota. They are usually microscopic and aquatic, reproducing asexually through spores. These spores are transferred from one plant to another using tiny, tail-like appendages known as flagella. Some types of chytrids are known to cause infection in frogs by penetrating their skin.
Glomeromycetes constitute almost half of all soil fungi and often form symbiotic relationships with the plants. These fungi get sugars from the plants and respond by dissolving soil minerals to offer the plants essential nutrients. What’s more, these fungi reproduce asexually.
What Separates Animals from Plants?
Both animals and plants cover an extensive part of the earth’s surface. They both came about the early man’s need to clothe and feed themselves. At a glance, plants and animals are very different. So, what is the difference between plants and animals? To begin with, the variation between animals and plants starts at the cellular level and progresses to include other factors such as mobility. Read on to find out more.
Plants respirate through a process known as respiration. They take in carbon dioxide to make food and give off oxygen. On the other hand, animals give CO2 and take in the oxygen they need to breathe.
Generally, plants remain rooted in one position throughout their lifetime, while animals can move about freely.
Animals feature an advanced nervous and sensory system, while plants either have virtually no sense of ability.
Plant cells have cell walls made of cellulose, whereas an animal cell will not have a cell wall. Another variation comes in the cell organelle structure. Plants cells contain chloroplasts for photosynthesis (food-making process), while animal cell don’t as they don’t make their own food.
Most animals have a closed circulatory system, whereas plants have a rudimentary circulatory system, which is based on potential difference and pressure.
Animals can ingest complex foods, whereas plants only take simple foods.
Do Fungi Have More in Common With Plants Or Animals?
Most fungi appear like plants. They will grow into visible structures that strike complete resemblance with plant parts or animals. At a microscopic level, both fungi and plants have cell walls, which are not present in animal cells. However, the study of cladistics on fungi and plant/animal relationship show that fungi are closer relatives to animals than plants.
According to this phylogeny tree, animals are the more recent ancestor to Kingdom Plantae than Kingdom Animalia. So, the next time you’re munching that mushroom in your plate salad, remember you share a much closer relationship than your greens.
What Are the Differences Between Fungi and Animals?
Most tissue types are unique to only animals, for example, nerves and muscles. Also, some fungi, i.e., yeast, are single-celled organisms. On the other hand, all metazoans contain multiple cells. Even the most basic animal, the sponge, will have numerous cells specialized for various tasks.
All animals are mobile, which means they can move freely for most of their development. Even the immobile and sessile animals like corals and sponges contain motile larvae. However, fungi cannot move freely.
Most of these variations are superficial, i.e., some fungi being single-celled, or maybe due to the evolutionary changes, which took place once the metazoan lineages and fungus diverged, for instance, mobility function. Nonetheless, the Cladistic analysis explains that animals are closer relatives to fungi than plants regardless of these differences.
What Do Animals and Fungi Have in Common?
The first striking similarity between animals and fungi is their trophic level- in simpler terms, their rank in the food chain. Both the animals and fungi do not produce their own food like plants. They obtain food from external sources. Besides, animals and fungi share a specific complex carbohydrate molecule known as chitin, commonly found in plants.
Fungi and animals that lack a vertebrate use the chitin for structural purposes. In fungi, chitin is the main structural component of these cell walls. In animals, the chitin will appear in the rigid structures, for instance, the insect exoskeletons, the beak of an octopus, and many other mollusks. At a molecular level, the chitin found in fungi is similar to the plant’s cellulose (found in the cell walls and other structures). But all in all, the chitin molecule is modified to make it more robust than cellulose.
By studying a wide range of features present in different eukaryotic organisms, taxonomists have come with a phylogeny tree known as a cladogram. This phylogeny tree places fungi in a branch closer to animals and distinct from green plants. However, some will still differ in identifying algae-like organisms, i.e., Microsporidia between Kingdom Plantae and Animalia. All in all, all of these phylogeny trees show a close relation of fungi to Animals than plants. Thus, it would be best if you did not use superficial resemblance to reflect the phylogenic relationship.
What Are the Beneficial Functions of Fungi?
Fungi are among the essential groups of organisms on this planet. It is easy to overlook their benefits, as they are much hidden, unseen growth, and actions. Their benefits are mainly masked in the idea that fungi cause food spoilage and human diseases, such as candida infections and athlete’s foot. But in the true sense, fungi are essential to both nature and human life on many levels. The following are some of the beneficial functions of fungi.
i) In nature. ii) In Humans
Fungi and other bacteria take part in the recycling process. They feed on dead material in the soil and turn it into a form that can be re-used. If fungi were not present in the ground, the recycling activities could be significantly reduced. You could be coming across piles of animal remains and dead plants everywhere.
As with other animal pathogens, fungi can be useful in controlling the spread of damaging pests. These fungi will only attack specific insects and without affecting the plants or animals. Currently, fungi are under investigation for potential microbial pest controls, with some already out there.
For instance, the Chinese caterpillar fungus can be extensively useful in controlling insect’s infestation on crops. What you spray on your produce is the spores of these fungi. Some of the insect pests that have successfully been controlled using fungi include, but are not limited to, potato beetles, leafhoppers, citrus rust mites, and spittlebugs. Using fungi as biocontrol means you’ll be preserving the environment because you are not using chemicals while saving on costs.
Fungi are equally crucial for the cultivation and growth of many plants. The mycorrhizal relationship developed between the plant roots and fungi enhances the land’s productivity as these fungi make soil nutrients readily available to the plants. They feed on dead plant and animal remains. Because plants come at the foot of most food chains, suppose their growth is limited, all animal life, humans inclusive, would be at high risk of starvation.
Fungi are also directly essential to humans as food. Shiitake mushrooms, morels, truffles, and chanterelles are considered by many as delicacies. Besides, the meadow mushroom and Agaricus campestris feature in most dishes. Other types of molds are used to ripen cheese. You can find most of these mushrooms in the wild. Even though most of the fungi are safe for consumption, others are quite poisonous. It would be best if you were absolutely sure what you collect is edible before consuming it.
Fermenting grains to make beer and wines is an old practice that has been practiced by many cultures worldwide. These ancient people picked wild yeast from natural grounds and used it to ferment the sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide under anaerobic conditions. Today, the fermentation process is more advanced but still uses the same principle.
The Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also referred to as baker’s yeast, is an essential ingredient in making bread, a staple food for many over the years. Before the isolated yeasts were made available in recent times, humans would just let dough collect yeast from the surroundings for several hours or days. A small portion of the leavened dough is set aside for use in making the next meal, much similar to the bread made today.
The invention of antibiotics has revolutionized healthcare globally. Most secondary fungi metabolites are used for commercial use. These fungi naturally produce the antibiotics that inhibit or prevent bacteria’s growth, hence used in controlling diseases in animal and human populations.
Essential antibiotics, for instance, cephalosporins and penicillin, are easily isolated from the fungi. The most commonly used drugs derived from fungi isolation include cyclosporine (reduces the patient’s rejection of an organ transplant), steroid hormones, and ergot alkaloids, which functions to prevent excessive bleeding. Other isolated compounds are proven effective in the treatment of certain forms of cancer.
As less-complex eukaryotic organisms, fungi make a good fit for model research. Numerous advances in recent genetic have been achieved through the use of certain fungi. Researchers also use them as a great starting point for discovering comparable human genes.
Since they are eukaryotic organisms, the yeast cells produce and modify proteins like human cells, unlike bacteria, which do not have an internal structural membrane and enzymes to metabolize proteins. For these reasons, yeast makes far much better organisms in parallel DNA technology and experimental research.
At one point, fungi were classified as plants because they grow from the soil and consist of rigid cell walls. Today, taxonomists have placed them independently in their own Kingdom. The most typical representatives are edible molds, yeasts, mushrooms, and plant pathogens, i.e., rusts and smuts. The Kingdom fungi have equal ranks with other Kingdom classifications such as Plantae and Animalia.
Despite the superficial resemblance to plants, the fungi are more related to animals. Like animals, the cell walls of fungi contain chitin, and both preserve food in the form of glycogen. The chitin in animals is responsible for the hardness of the exoskeleton of insects and lobsters. What’s more, both fungi and animals lack chlorophylls, meaning they are heterotrophic. But still, fungi are not animals as their cells don’t have cell walls, digest food externally, and have less mobility function.