Fungi and the History of Mycology


Fungi, broadly defined, (1) are eukaryotic, (2) have no plastids or photosynthetic pigments, (3) are therefore heterotrophic (unable to make their own food from inorganic components), (4) are osmotrophic (absorb rather than ingest food), (5) are often opportunistic and capable of exploiting many different substrates, (6) are never amoeboid at any stage, (7) almost always live inside branching networks of microscopic, apically extending, tubular structures known as hyphae, (8) almost all reproduce by unicellular or multicellular spores, (9) generally have haploid somatic nuclei and (10) mostly do not produce flagellate cells. Mycology is the branch of science that studies these organisms.

Key Concepts:

  • The fungi are classified in two biological kingdoms, which are called Chromista and Eumycota (also known as Stramenopila and Fungi, respectively).

  • Fungi are composed of hyphae (germ tubes) that arise when a spore germinates. Hyphae have walls of chitin (in the eumycotan fungi) or cellulose (in the chromistan fungi).

  • The nuclei in somatic cells of chromistan fungi are diploid, whereas those in somatic cells of eumycotan fungi are haploid.

  • Almost all fungi eventually reproduce by means of spores, usually modified bits of hyphae, which vary greatly in size and appearance.

  • The ascomycetes and basidiomycetes are characterised by their sexual reproductive structures (teleomorphs), for example, cup fungi and mushrooms.

  • Many ascomycetes and basidiomycetes appear to have lost the ability to develop sexual structures, and survive happily as mitosporic fungi (anamorphs).

  • Fungi have established mutualistic symbioses with cyanobacteria and chlorophycota (green algae) to form lichens.

  • The current classification of the fungi and our understanding of their life cycles is to a large extent based on the work of Anton de Bary in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Keywords: ascomycetes; basidiomycetes; Chromista; Eumycota; hyphae; mycelia; mushrooms; oomycetes; phyla; zygomycetes

Figure 1.

A diagram of relationships among the seven kingdoms of living organisms. What we call fungi make up Kingdom Mycota, and also form a part of Kingdom Chromista (after Patterson and Sogin, 1993).

Figure 2.

A young fungal colony, arising from a spore at the centre, and spreading radially outward by producing repeatedly branching hyphae. There are already 388 hyphal tips in the drawing, and this number increases very rapidly as the colony grows.

Figure 3.

A sample of the diversity of sexual and asexual spore morphology in the fungi.

Figure 4.

Life cycle diagram for Rhizopus stolonifer (Mucorales, Zygomycota).

Figure 5.

The various kinds of ascus and ascoma produced by the teleomorphs of Ascomycetes.

Figure 6.

The various kinds of conidia, conidiophores and conidiomata produced by the anamorphs of Ascomycetes.

Figure 7.

The main features of agarics (mushrooms) (Agaricales, Basidiomycetes).

Figure 8.

Representative basidiomata produced by the various families of order Aphyllophorales (Basidiomycetes).

Figure 9.

Nonshooting basidia, and basidiomata, of gasteroid Basidiomycetes.

Figure 10.

Basidiomata of some spectacular gasteromycetes.

Figure 11.

Life cycle of Puccinia graminis (Uredinales, Basidiomycetes), the wheat rust fungus, showing the five kinds of spores produced at successive stages on the two hosts.

Figure 12.

Lichens: a–h, kinds of thallus; i–k, modes of asexual reproduction; l, lichen synthesis; m, vertical section through an apothecial ascoma of a discolichen. Note the algal layer just below the surface, and the slowly maturing hymenium (ascus‐producing layer) in the ascoma.


Further Reading

Ainsworth GC (1976) Introduction to the History of Mycology. London: Cambridge University Press.

Barnett JA (2011) Yeast Research: A Historical Overview. Washington, DC: ASM Press.

Carlile MJ, Watkinson SC and Gooday GW (2001) The Fungi, 2nd edn. London: Academic Press.

Deacon JW (2006) Fungal Biology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Hawksworth DL, Kirk PM, Sutton BC and Pegler DN (1995) Dictionary of the Fungi, 8th edn. Wallingford: CAB International.

Kendrick B (1981) The history of conidial fungi. In: Cole GT and Kendrick B (eds) Biology of Conidial Fungi, vol. 1, pp. 3–18. New York: Academic Press.

Kendrick B (1999) The Fifth Kingdom, 3rd edn (on CD‐ROM). Sidney BC, Canada: Mycologue Publications.

Kendrick B and Nag Raj TR (1979) Morphological terminology in Fungi Imperfecti. In: Kendrick B (ed.) The Whole Fungus, vol. 1, pp. 43–62. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.

Kirk PM, Cannon PF, Minter DW and Stalpers JA (eds) (2008) Ainsworth & Bisby's Dictionary of the Fungi, 10th edn. Wallingford, UK: CABI.

Mueller G, Bills G and Foster M (eds) (2004) Biodiversity of Fungi. Inventory and Monitoring Methods. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press.

Varma A and Kharkwal AC (eds) (2009) Symbiotic Fungi. Berlin: Springer.

Webster J and Weber R (2007) Introduction to Fungi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Kendrick, Bryce(Oct 2011) Fungi and the History of Mycology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002320.pub2]