The Fungi Kingdom is very diverse. Many fungi species are beneficial, while others can pose risks to both the environment and us.
In this video lesson, you will learn about some of the ways that fungi affect ecology and human health.
Fungi Can Be Beneficial
The Fungi Kingdom is a unique and diverse group of organisms. Fungi not only provide a tasty addition to your stir-fry, they also have many ecological benefits as well. In another lesson, we learned about lichens and mycorrhizae, which are both symbiotic relationships involving fungi.Lichens are symbioses with photosynthetic organisms, specifically algae and cyanobacteria.
Mycorrhizae are symbioses with plant roots. Both types of symbiotic relationships provide nutritional and habitat benefits for the fungi and other organisms involved.Fungi are also essential recyclers in the environment.
As decomposers, they break down organic material and restock the environment with usable nutrients. If we didn’t have fungi breaking things down, we’d just have a large pile of dead stuff all over the place, and that certainly wouldn’t be good! Not only do we not want to see dead stuff piling up, but the nutrients in those dead things need to get returned to the earth so that they can be used by new, growing plants and animals.Your stir-fry is just one way that fungi are used in food.
Ever had blue cheese? What makes it blue (and so tasty) is the fungi used to ripen the cheese. Truffles are highly prized fungi that people eat, and yeasts are fungi that make beer and bread.Fungi are also beneficial in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. Some fungi produce antibiotics, like penicillin, that are used to treat bacterial diseases. Some yeasts are also used in biomedical research to produce human proteins.
Fungi Can Be Harmful
While you may enjoy some tasty blue cheese, you probably don’t want to eat just any moldy cheese because it will likely make you sick. This is because there are many fungi that are harmful instead of beneficial.In fact, about 1/3 of the known species of fungi are parasites or pathogens, mostly occurring in or on plants.
Have you heard of Dutch elm disease? This was a harmful fungus that was accidentally introduced into the U.S. in the early 1920s, and it eventually destroyed about 70% of the elm trees in the Eastern part of the country.Fungi are also serious pests in agriculture. Many crop fields these days are made of genetically identical individuals, which makes them the perfect target for disease.
About 80% of plant diseases are caused by fungi, and a large variety of fungi are common on grain crops.Many of these plant pathogens can be harmful to humans and other animals. Eating infected crops can cause us to become very sick, or even die. But the good news is that most animals are not as susceptible to parasitic fungi directly.
Compared to 1/3 of fungi species being harmful to plants, only about 50 fungi species are known parasites to animals. You have probably heard of some of these too: athlete’s foot, yeast infections and some lung diseases are all caused by fungi. Even ringworm is a fungus. That’s right – it’s not a parasitic worm.
It just looks like one, which is how it got its name.
With over 100,000 known species, fungi are quite diverse and abundant on Earth. The bad news is that many of them can be quite harmful, especially to plants. About 1/3 of the known fungi species are plant parasites or pathogens. Fungi are responsible for many crop diseases, as well as wiping out larger species like elms in the Eastern U.
S.The good news is that only about 50 species are known animal parasites, so as long as we don’t ingest the infected plants, we’re fairly safe! Fungi also have many benefits. In the environment, they serve as decomposers, which break down dead organic material. This is an important job because otherwise that material would just build up everywhere. This process also serves to recycle nutrients back into the ground so that they are usable by new plants and animals.
Fungi also provide us with many interesting foods, such as mushrooms, cheeses, and breads. Additionally, they have been very helpful to the medical industry because they can help treat things like bacterial diseases.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to describe how fungi affect ecology and human health in both positive and negative ways.