What are fungi?
Fungus, plural fungi, is any member of the group of about 144,000 known eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Fungi, which includes yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews, molds, and mushrooms.
They are found in just about any habitat but most live on the land, mainly in soil or on plant material, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some also live in the sea or in fresh water.
Fungi are inextricably linked to our lives and livelihoods. They affect our health, food, industry and agriculture in both positive and negative ways. From the yeast to ferment beer, mushrooms on our dinner plates, or in the manufacture of life-saving medicines, fungi really are amazing organisms.
7 Facts about fungi
1) It is estimated 90% of plants rely on fungi to live and that 93% of the world’s fungal species are yet to be discovered.
2) Fungi aren’t plants and they aren’t animals. In fact, fungi belong to their very own group called a kingdom.
3) Fungi have been around for millions of years, even before the dinosaurs. Today you can find fungi everywhere – the Arctic, the tropics, the desert and in oceans and rivers too. They can even be found in space!
4) Fungi are also one of the only groups of organisms that can efficiently break down wood, so in forest eco-systems they’re absolutely essential to stop dead wood and leaves building up.
5) Fungi recycle nutrients back into the soil, which helps plants to grow and thrive. Without the recycling capability of fungi, human beings wouldn’t be able to survive on this planet!
6) Some fungi are even used to make medicines, the most well-known being the antibiotic penicillin. Other fungi are used to produce medicines that lower cholesterol and to make ‘anti-rejection’ drugs, which enable people to have life-saving organ transplants.
7) You might be surprised how many foods are made using fungi too. Fizzy drinks, wine, beer, cheese, bread, Marmite, Quorn, coffee and chocolate all depend on fungi. Fungal mycelium is also being used to create environmentally-friendly leather, packaging and even building materials.
Look out for fungi in nature
Fungi are all around us but frequently go unnoticed. The next time you are out and about in nature keep an eye out for these amazing little organisms, but remember just to look and not to touch as they can be dangerous.