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Five Key Lessons from PMB 110: Biology of Fungi

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Professors of plant and microbial biology John Taylor and Tom Bruns team up to teach the biology of fungi in a course that combines lectures, laboratories, and field trips. Over the course of the semester, students encounter hundreds of different fungal species ranging from toadstools to wobbly witches’ butter. Breakthroughs asked the collaborators to share five key lessons they hope will stay with their students—and with you:

1. There are three parts to a fungus: the body, or mycelium, which is made up of tiny filamentous cells called hyphae; the reproductive structure that makes spores; and the spores themselves. The reproductive

structure is often the most obvious, as with a mushroom, but the mycelium can have a mass greater than a whale and the spores can number in the trillions.

2. Fungi come in three body plans. These include single cells, as in the yeasts; the filaments of the mushrooms and molds; and the flagellated cells of water molds, which resemble animal sperm.

3. Fungi obtain their energy from other forms of life, either living or dead. They earn a living by decomposing tissues, parasitizing other organisms, or forming mutualisms. In these three roles, fungi are an integral part of all terrestrial ecosystems.

4. The fungi are most closely related to animals. This close relationship makes the fungi good models in animal biology. But because we share so much of our cellular biology, fungal infections such as diaper rash, vaginitis, or athlete’s foot can be difficult to treat.

5. The most famous fungi are Saccharomyces, the yeast used in brewing and baking; Penicillium,whose members make Roquefort and Camembert cheeses, as well as the antibiotic penicillin; and Agaricus, the white button mushroom.


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