In this article, we will discuss Kingdom Fungi. So, let’s get started.
The fungi constitute a unique kingdom of heterotrophic organisms. They show a great diversity in morphology and habitat. You must have seen fungi on a moist bread and rotten fruits. The common mushroom you eat and toadstools are also fungi. White spots seen on mustard leaves are due to a parasitic fungus. Some unicellular fungi, e.g., yeast are used to make bread and beer. Other fungi cause diseases in plants and animals; wheat rust-causing Puccinia is an important example. Some are the source of antibiotics, e.g., Penicillium Fungi are cosmopolitan and occur in air, water, soil and on animals and plants. They prefer to grow in warm and humid places. Have you ever wondered why we keep food in the refrigerator ? Yes. it is to prevent food from going bad due to bacterial or fungal infections. With the exception of yeasts which are unicellular, fungi are filamentous. Their bodies consist of long, slender thread-like structures called hyphae. The network of hyphae is known as mycelium. Some hyphae are continuous tubes filled with multinucleated cytoplasm these are called coenocytic hyphae. Others have septae or cross walls in their hyphae. The cell walls of fungi composed of chitin and polysaccharides.
Most fungi are heterotrophic and absorb soluble organic matter from dead substrates and hence are called saprophytes. Those that depend on living plants and animals are called parasites. They can also live as symbionts – in association with algae as lichens and with roots of higher plants as mycorrhiza.
Reproduction in fungi can take place by vegetative means fragmentation, fission and budding. Asexual reproduction is by spores called conidia or sporangiospores or zoospores, and sexual reproduction is by oospores, ascospores and basidiospores. The various spores are produced in distinct structures called fruiting bodies. The sexual cycle involves the following three steps:
(i) Fusion of protoplasms between two motile or non-motile gametes called plasmogamy.
(ii) Fusion of two nuclei called karyogamy.
(iii) Meiosis in zygote resulting in haploid spores.
When a fungus reproduces sexually, two haploid hyphae of compatible mating types come together and fuse. In some fungi the fusion of two haploid cells immediately results in diploid cells (2n). However, in other fungi (ascomycetes and basidiomycetes), an intervening dikaryotic stage (n + n, i.e., two nuclei per cell) occurs; such a condition is called a dikaryon and the phase is called dikaryophase of fungus. Later, the parental nuclei fuse and the cells become diploid. The fungi form fruiting bodies in which reduction division occurs, leading to formation of haploid spores.
The morphology of the mycelium, mode of spore formation and fruiting bodies form the basis for the division of the kingdom into various classes.