Fungi are useful to mankind in many ways. These organisms play an important role in medicine, agriculture and industry. They have harmful effects also.
Useful aspects of fungi
The antibiotic Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming of Britain from the fungus Penicillium notatum, which in 1940s emerged as a ‘wonder drug’ for the treatment of bacterial diseases. It gave another important ‘niche’ to fungi in the realm of biological sciences as producers of antibiotics. Many other important antibiotics are produced by moulds
Many fungi such as yeast, mushrooms, truffles, morels etc., are edible. Edible mushrooms contain proteins and vitamins. Certain species of Agaricus such as A. Bisporus, A. arvensis are edible. Volvariella volvacea and V. dispora are also edible mushrooms cultivated commercially.
Brewing and baking industries rely heavily on the uses of yeast (saccharomyces).Yeasts ferment sugar solution into alcohol and carbon d oxide. Alcohol is used in brewing industry and CO2 in baking industry.
The ‘biochemical genetics’ which later developed into the fasinating ‘molecular biology’ was founded by studies with Neurospora crassa, a fungus which even dethroned Drosophila from the Kingdom of genetics as this fungus was especially suited for genetical analysis. Fungi like Neurospora and Aspergillus continue to be important organisms studied in genetics.
“Without fungi even death will be incomplete” said Pasteur. The dead cellulosic vegetation is decomposed into carbon and minerals by the saprotrophic fungi and these elements are returned to the same environment from where they were obtained. Thus fungi maintain the carbon and mineral cycles in nature.
Harmful aspects of Fungi
Fungi are great nuisance. They grow on every thing from jam to leather and spoil them. LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) produced from the fungus ergot (Claviceps purpurea) produces hallucinations. Hence this fungus is called “ hallucinogenic fungus” and has caused greatest damage to the frustrated youth by giving an unreal, extraordinary lightness and hovering sensation.
The association of fungi with several plant diseases has now come to light. The devastating disease called ‘late blight of potato’ caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans in Ireland in the year 1845 has resulted in such a disaster that about one million people died of starvation and over 1.5 million people fled to other countries since potato was the staple food of Ireland. Since then ‘Plant pathology’ a new science started which deals with diseases of plants caused not only by fungi but also by bacteria, viruses etc.