Portal:Fungi

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Fungi

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A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are inconspicuous to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce. Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Panellus stipticus
Panellus stipticus, commonly known as the bitter oyster, the astringent panus, the luminescent panellus, or the stiptic fungus, is a species of fungus in the Mycenaceae family, and the type species of the genus Panellus. A common and widely distributed species, it is found in Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North America, where it grows in groups or dense overlapping clusters on the logs, stumps, and trunks of deciduous trees, especially beech, oak, and birch. During the development of the fruit bodies, the mushrooms start out as tiny white knobs, which, over a period of one to three months, develop into fan- or kidney-shaped caps that measure up to 3 cm (1.2 in) broad. The caps are orange-yellow to brownish, and attached to the decaying wood by short stubby stalks that are connected off-center or on the side of the caps. The fungus was given its current scientific name in 1879, but has been known by many names since French mycologist Jean Bulliard first described it as Agaricus stypticus in 1783. Molecular phylogenetic analysis revealed P. stipticus to have a close genetic relationship with members of the genus Mycena.

Panellus stipticus is one of several dozen species of fungi that are bioluminescent. Strains from eastern North America are typically bioluminescent, but those from the Pacific regions of North America and from other continents are not. The luminescence is localized to the edges of the gills and the junction of the gills with the stem and cap. Bioluminescence is also observable with mycelia grown in laboratory culture, and the growth conditions for optimal light production have been studied in detail. Several chemicals have been isolated and characterized that are believed to be responsible for light production. Genetic analysis has shown that luminescence is controlled by a single dominant allele. The luminescent glow of this and other fungi inspired the term foxfire, coined by early settlers in eastern and southern North America. Modern research has probed the potential of P. stipticus as a tool in bioremediation, due to its ability to detoxify various environmental pollutants.

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Mycena maculata, commonly known as the reddish-spotted Mycena, is a species of fungus in the Mycenaceae family. The fruit bodies, or mushrooms, have conic to bell-shaped to convex caps that are initially dark brown but fade to brownish-gray when young, reaching diameters of up to 4 cm (1.6 in). They are typically wrinkled or somewhat grooved, and have reddish-brown spots in age, or after being cut or bruised. The whitish to pale gray gills also become spotted reddish-brown as they mature. The stem, up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long and covered with whitish hairs at its base, can also develop reddish stains. The mycelium of M. maculata has bioluminescent properties. The saprobic fungus in found in Europe and North America, where it grows in groups or clusters on the rotting wood of both hardwoods and conifers. The edibility of the fungus is unknown. Although the species is known for, and named after its propensity to stain reddish, occasionally these stains do not appear, making it virtually indistinguishable from M. galericulata.

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Pholiota malicola.jpg
Credit: JJ Harrison
A cluster of Pholiota malicola, photographed in Meander Forest Reserve, Tasmania, Australia.

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