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A fungus (plural: fungi or funguses) is any member of the group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. These organisms are classified as a kingdom, fungi, which is separate from the other eukaryotic life kingdoms of plants and animals.

A characteristic that places fungi in a different kingdom from plants, bacteria, and some protists is chitin in their cell walls. Similar to animals, fungi are heterotrophs; they acquire their food by absorbing dissolved molecules, typically by secreting digestive enzymes into their environment. Fungi do not photosynthesise. Growth is their means of mobility, except for spores (a few of which are flagellated), which may travel through the air or water. Fungi are the principal decomposers in ecological systems. These and other differences place fungi in a single group of related organisms, named the Eumycota (true fungi or Eumycetes), which share a common ancestor (form a monophyletic group), an interpretation that is also strongly supported by molecular phylogenetics. This fungal group is distinct from the structurally similar myxomycetes (slime molds) and oomycetes (water molds). The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology (from the Greek μύκης mykes, mushroom). In the past, mycology was regarded as a branch of botany, although it is now known fungi are genetically more closely related to animals than to plants.

Selected article

Amanita bisporigera fruit bodies
Amanita bisporigera is a deadly poisonous species of fungus in the Amanitaceae family. It is commonly known as the eastern North American destroying angel or the destroying angel, although it shares this latter name with three other lethal white Amanita species, A. ocreata, A. verna and A. virosa. The fruit bodies are found on the ground in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests of Eastern North America south to Mexico, but are rare in western North America; it has also been found in pine plantations in Colombia. The mushroom has a smooth white cap that can reach up to 10 cm (3.9 in) across, and a stem, up to 14 cm (5.5 in) by 1.8 cm (0.71 in) thick, that has a delicate white skirt-like ring near the top. The bulbous stem base is covered with a membranous sac-like volva. The white gills are free from attachment to the stalk and crowded closely together. As the species name suggests, A. bisporigera typically bears two spores on the basidia, although this characteristic is not as immutable as was once thought.

First described in 1906, A. bisporigera is classified in the section Phalloideae of the genus Amanita together with other amatoxin-containing species. Amatoxins are cyclic peptides which inhibit the enzyme RNA polymerase II and interfere with various cellular functions. The first symptoms of poisoning appear 6 to 24 hours after consumption, followed by a period of apparent improvement, then by symptoms of liver and kidney failure, and death after four days or more. Amanita bisporigera closely resembles a few other white amanitas, including the equally deadly A. virosa and A. verna. These species, difficult to distinguish from A. bisporigera based on visible field characteristics, do not have two-spored basidia, and do not stain yellow when a dilute solution of potassium hydroxide is applied. The DNA of A. bisporigera has been partially sequenced, and the genes responsible for the production of amatoxins have been determined.

Selected species

Lactarius alnicola 6936.jpg
Lactarius alnicola, commonly known as the golden milkcap, is a species of fungus in the Russulaceae family. The fruit bodies produced by the fungus are characterized by a sticky, vanilla-colored cap up to 20 cm (7.9 in) wide with a mixture of yellow tones arranged in faint concentric bands. The stem is up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long and has yellow-brown spots. When it is cut or injured, the mushroom oozes a white latex, which has an intensely peppery taste. The acrid taste of the fruit bodies renders them unpalatable. The fungus is found in the western United States and Mexico, where it grows in mycorrhizal associations with various coniferous trees species, such as spruce, pine and fir, and deciduous species such as oak and alder. It has also been collected in India. Two varieties have been named: var. pitkinensis, known from Colorado, and var. pungens, from Michigan.

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Chlorophyllum rhacodes LC0093.jpg
Credit: Jörg Hempel
The "shaggy parasol" mushroom, species Chlorophyllum rhacodes, with the cap not yet opened.

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