The Importance of Fungi

Fungi are one of the most important groups of organisms on the planet. This is easy to overlook, given their largely hidden, unseen actions and growth. They are important in an enormous variety of ways.

Fungi, together with bacteria, are responsible for most of the recycling which returns dead material to the soil in a form in which it can be reused. Without fungi, these recycling activities would be seriously reduced. We would effectively be lost under piles many metres thick, of dead plant and animal remains.

Mycorrhizae and plant growth
Fungi are vitally important for the good growth of most plants, including crops, through the development of mycorrhizal associations. As plants are at the base of most food chains, if their growth was limited, all animal life, including human, would be seriously reduced through starvation.

Fungi are also important directly as food for humans. Many mushrooms are edible and different species are cultivated for sale worldwide. While this is a very small proportion of the actual food that we eat, fungi are also widely used in the production of many foods and drinks. These include cheeses, beer and wine, bread, some cakes, and some soya bean products.

While a great many wild fungi are edible, it can be difficult to correctly identify them. Some mushrooms are deadly if they are eaten. Fungi with names such as 'Destroying Angel' and 'Death Cap' give us some indication that it would not be a terribly good idea to eat them! In some countries, collecting wild mushrooms to eat is a popular activity. It is always wise to be totally sure that what you have collected is edible and not a poisonous look-a-like.


Penicillin, perhaps the most famous of all antibiotic drugs, is derived from a common fungus called Penicillium. Many other fungi also produce antibiotic substances, which are now widely used to control diseases in human and animal populations. The discovery of antibiotics revolutionized health care worldwide.

Some fungi which parasitise caterpillars have also been traditionally used as medicines. The Chinese have used a particular caterpillar fungus as a tonic for hundreds of years. Certain chemical compounds isolated from the fungus may prove to be useful treatments for certain types of cancer.

A fungus which parasitises Rye crops causes a disease known as Ergot. The fungus can occur on a variety of grasses. It produces small hard structures, known as sclerotia. These sclerotia can cause poisoning in humans and animals which have eaten infected material. However, these same sclerotia are also the source of a powerful and important drug which has uses in childbirth.


Fungi such as the Chinese caterpillar fungus, which parasitise insects, can be extremely useful for controlling insect pests of crops. The spores of the fungi are sprayed on the crop pests. Fungi have been used to control Colorado potato beetles, which can devastate potato crops. Spittlebugs, leaf hoppers and citrus rust mites are some of the other insect pests which have been controlled using fungi. This method is generally cheaper and less damaging to the environment than using chemical pesticides.


Crop Diseases
Fungal parasites may be useful in biocontrol, but they can also have enormous negative consequences for crop production. Some fungi are parasites of plants. Most of our common crop plants are susceptible to fungal attack of one kind or another. Spore production and dispersal is enormously efficient in fungi and plants of the same species crowded together in fields are ripe for attack. Fungal diseases can on occasion result in the loss of entire crops if they are not treated with antifungal agents.


Animal Disease
Fungi can also parasitise domestic animals causing diseases, but this is not usually a major economic problem. A wide range of fungi also live on and in humans, but most coexist harmlessly. Athletes foot and Candida infections are examples of human fungal infections.


Food Spoilage

It has already been noted that fungi play a major role in recycling organic material. The fungi which make our bread and jam go mouldy are only recycling organic matter, even though in this case, we would prefer that it didn't happen! Fungal damage can be responsible for large losses of stored food, particularly food which contains any moisture. Dry grains can usually be stored successfully, but the minute they become damp, moulds are likely to render them inedible. This is obviously a problem where large quantities of food are being produced seasonally and then require storage until they are needed.


Looking at the above list, it is clear that fungi play a role in just about every part of our daily lives!




Fascinating facts about fungi




1. Fungi are in a kingdom of their own but are closer to animals than plants

2. They have chemicals in their cell walls shared with lobsters and crabs

3. A fungus has been discovered capable of breaking down plastics in weeks rather than years

4. There is evidence to suggest that yeasts - a type of fungus - were being used to produce the alcoholic drink mead as long ago as 9,000 years ago

5. At least 350 species are consumed as foods including truffles, which can sell for thousands of dollars apiece, quorn, and those in marmite and cheese

6. Plastic car parts, synthetic rubber and lego are made using itaconic acid derived from a fungus

7. 216 species of fungi are thought to be hallucinogenic

8. Fungi are being used to turn crop waste into bioethanol

9. Products made from fungi can be used as replacements for polystyrene foam, leather and building materials

10. DNA studies show that there are thousands of different fungi in a single sample of soil, many of which are unknown and hidden - so-called "dark taxa"

3.8 MIO

We have approx. 3.8 million fungi species in the world


More than 2,000 new fungi are discovered each year


More than 90% of the estimated 3.8 million fungi in the world are currently unknown to science.


Yeast: How a Mighty Little Fungus Evolved To Change the World


Without alcohol, it’s fair to say that modern society would look quite different. Beer, for instance, is believed by some archeologists to be the reason humans transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers. And wine has been an integral part of life around the world for centuries.

But beer would just be barley-flavored tea and wine would remain as grape juice if it weren’t for one key ingredient: yeast. These little organisms comprise one part of 120,000 identified species of fungi, according to the Bradbury Science Museum. Yet, they’ve evolved for millions of years to produce alcohol, a trait fairly unique to these microbes. This evolutionary development not only allowed yeast to survive, but forever shaped civilization.

What is yeast exactly and when did humans first notice it?

Yeast are “single-celled fungal organisms,” who consume sugar and turn it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.


They were first observed in the 17th century by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch scientist, who observed specks of yeast through a microscope, according to Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-Created by Dr. Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the biomolecular archaeology project and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. However, Leeuwenhoek didn’t realize what he saw was alive.

But long before Leeuwenhoek observed and documented these fungi, humans had reaped the benefits of yeast for thousands of years without realizing it.


It’s hard to imagine a holiday table without bread, meat, vegetables, wine, beer or a board of French cheeses for those with more adventurous palates. Savoring these delicacies with family and friends is part of what makes the holidays so much fun.

These foods and drinks are courtesy of the domestication of several different animals, plants and microbes. Plant and animal domestication has been well studied, since it is thought to have been the most momentous change in recent human history.



Amadou mushrooms, for instance, have been used for everything from starting fires to creating felt-like fabric and artificial leather. An Amadou mushroom was even found with the 5000 year old remains of “Otzi the Iceman.” So yeah, mushrooms and humans go waaay back!

Climate change


These magical Mychorrzial mushrooms can even help reverse climate change.

Glomalin, a by-product from mycorrhizal fungi, can capture and store carbon in the soil, removing it from the atmosphere.

Trees talk


Fungi allow trees to talk to each other.

The “Wood Wide Web,” as coined by Dr. Simard, is a network of Mycorrhizal fungi that form a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. The vast network allows trees to warn each other about pests, drought, and disease.

Modern medicine depends on fungi


Medicines developed from fungi have been used to treat everything from high cholesterol to multiple sclerosis. Some fungi are even used to treat cancer.


Save the Honeybee

Foraging honey bees have been observed consuming mycelium, the thread-like filaments found on many mushrooms. Like other fungi, mushrooms can produce chemicals with natural antimicrobial properties, including antibacterial and even antiviral compounds. Initial findings suggest that five species of the wood-rotting fungi can reduce the honeybees' viruses and increase their lifespans.



It enriches the soil and supplies nutrients for the healthy growth of plants. Mushroom compost also increases the water-holding capacity of the soil, which decreases your watering needs. Mushroom compost is suitable for most garden plants.

Health & Vitamin D

Oyster and shiitake mushrooms have the most fiber (at 2g per serving), Lemond says, and raw maitake mushrooms and portobellos exposed to UV light are among the highest in vitamin D. White mushrooms are also sold with enhanced levels of vitamin D. Ultimately, though, any mushroom is a good choice.

Skin & Cosmetics


With anti-inflammatory properties, mushrooms can help improve acne, rosacea and eczema. They are also rich in vitamin D, selenium and antioxidants that protect your skin against wrinkles and discoloration caused by environmental damage




Unlike styrofoam, Mushroom Packaging consists of 100 percent biodegradable and renewable material that can be recycled directly in and by nature. Mushroom Packaging therefore contributes to “up-cycling” by providing new value to agricultural waste that otherwise has few other uses and low economic value.

Mycelium leather


When mushroom roots are grown on sawdust or agricultural waste, they form a thick mat that can then be treated to resemble leather. ... Going from a single spore to a finished “fungi leather” (or “mycelium leather”) product takes a couple of weeks, compared with years required to raise a cow to maturity.

Mushroom Fabric


A new organic textile has been developed that is grown from mushroom spores and plant fibres. The material is called MYX, from the mycelium: the vegetable part of a mushroom. MYX is grown during a 3-4 week period, using the oyster mushroom, a common edible fungus. ... The material is technically a composite.

Magic Mushrooms

Some  contain psychoactive components psilocybin and some ibotenic acid and muscimol. Shrooms have a long history of being associated with spiritual experiences and self-discovery. Many believe that e magic mushrooms are sacred and  that enable people to attain superior spiritual states. They are used for therapies in many parts of the world.



They are all around us...

They're all around us, in the soil, our bodies and the air, but are often too small to be seen with the naked eye.

They provide medicines and food but also wreak havoc by causing plant and animal diseases.

According to the first big assessment of the state of the world's fungi, the fungal kingdom is vital to life on Earth.

Yet, more than 90% of the estimated 3.8 million fungi in the world are currently unknown to science.

"It's such an interesting set of organisms and we really know so little about them," says Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which led the report.

"They're really weird organisms with the most bizarre life cycle. And yet when you understand their role in the Earth's ecosystem, you realise that they underpin life on Earth."

Many people are familiar with edible mushrooms or the mould behind penicillin. But fungi have a range of vital roles, from helping plants draw water and nutrients from the soil to medicines that can lower blood cholesterol or enable organ transplants.

Fungi also hold promise for breaking down plastics and generating new types of biofuels. But they have a darker side: devastating trees, crops and other plants across the world, and wiping out animals such as amphibians.

Jekyll and Hyde

Dr Ester Gaya, who leads a research project at Kew exploring the diversity and evolution of the world's fungi, says fungi are a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"They can be good and also bad at the same time," she says. "The same fungus, it can be seen as a detrimental thing - it can be bad - but also can have a lot of potential and have a lot of solutions."

The report sheds light on a number of gaps in our knowledge of a group of organisms that may hold the answers to food security. The fungal kingdom contains some of the most damaging crop pathogens. But fungi also recycle nutrients and play a role in the regulation of carbon dioxide levels.

"We ignore fungi at our peril," says Prof Willis. "This is a kingdom we have to start to take seriously, especially with climate change and all the other challenges that we're being faced with."