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Portal: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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Young and mature Amanita phalloides
Amanita phalloides (generally /æməˈntə fəˈlɔɪdz/), commonly known as the death cap, is a poisonous basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita. Widely distributed across Europe, A. phalloides associates with various deciduous trees. In some cases, death cap has been accidentally introduced to new regions with the cultivation of non-native species of oak, chestnut, and pine. The large fruiting bodies (i.e., the mushrooms) appear in summer and autumn; the caps are generally greenish in colour, with a white stipe and gills.

Coincidentally, these toxic mushrooms resemble several edible species (most notably the straw mushroom) commonly consumed by humans, increasing the risk of accidental poisoning. A. phalloides is one of the most poisonous of all known toadstools. It has been involved in the majority of human deaths from mushroom poisoning, possibly including the deaths of Roman Emperor Claudius and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. It has been the subject of much research, and many of its biologically active agents have been isolated. The principal toxic constituent is α-amanitin, which damages the liver and kidneys, often fatally. No definitive antidote is known.

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Hygrophorus agathosmus 70328.jpg
Hygrophorus agathosmus, commonly known as the gray almond waxy cap or the almond woodwax, is a species of fungus in the family Hygrophoraceae. It was first described by Elias Magnus Fries in 1815; Fries gave it its current name in 1838. A widespread species, it is distributed in the United States, Europe, Africa, and India, and can be found growing under spruce and pine in mixed forests. The fruit bodies are characterized by a light grayish cap that measures up to 8 cm (3.1 in) in diameter, waxy gills, a dry stem, and the distinct odor of bitter almonds. An edible but bland-tasting mushroom, extracts of the fruit bodies have been shown in laboratory tests to have antimicrobial activity against various bacteria that are pathogenic to humans.

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Lycoperdon pyriforme Sasata scale.jpg
Credit: Robert Sasata
Lycoperdon pyriforme, a species of puffball, growing on a decaying pine log near La Ronge, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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