Are fungi biodegradable? (11 applications of fungi by human beings)

This blog article will answer the question of the biodegradation of fungi.

It will also address other areas such as;

  • The impacts of fungi on the environment.
  • The classification of fungi.
  • The effects of fungi on humans.

Are fungi biodegradable?

Yes, the fungus is a group of organisms, and just like plants and animals, fungi are also broken down by bacteria and other fungi when they die.

The process of biodegradation is brought about by different agents, with bacteria and fungi being the most effective ones.

Upon their death, fungi, just like any other living organism, decompose due to the activities of bacteria and other fungal microbes.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic tissue into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

Heat is also produced during the process of biodegradation and is lost to the environment. 

The main agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi. They break organic materials, using them as a source of carbon to make food and energy.

Microbes can use either oxygen or other chemical compounds to break down organic matter. When they use oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

When microorganisms use any other chemical to break down organic matter instead of oxygen, the process is called anaerobic biodegradation.

The products of aerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and water. The products of anaerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and methane.

The biodegradation process occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and finally assimilation. 

Biodeterioration is the first stage of biodegradation that involves abiotic factors such as light, UV radiation, and water to help in the weakening of the structure of organic substances.

Bio-fragmentation is the second stage that involves the physical breakdown of organic matter into small particles, this is due to the biodeterioration of the organic matter in the first stage.

The last stage involves the fungi and the bacteria breaking down the small particles into even smaller biomass, producing heat, water, carbon dioxide, and methane, with the products depending on the type of biodegradation; whether aerobic or anaerobic.

What are fungi?

Fungi is any living organism found in the category of organisms called fungi. 

The kingdom of fungi is a taxonomic classification that involves such organisms as yeasts, mold, mildew, mushrooms, and many others.

Most usually confuse fungi and plants by assuming that fungi are a type of plant.

Plants and fungi are two different classifications of organisms, plants are usually green, and make their food while fungi are not green and they are mostly saprophytic; they feed on dead matter. They are the primary agents of decomposition.

The other difference between plants and fungi is their cellular structure. Fungi contain cell walls made up of chitin polymer while plants contain cellulose cell walls.

Fungi reproduce through a process of sporulation or budding. They produce spores that germinate into new fungi.

What are the properties of fungi?

Fungi contain similar properties to other organisms, but they also contain different properties that distinguish them from the test of living organisms.

The properties shared with other organisms include:

  • Their cells contain membrane-bound nuclei and chromosome-containing DNA. Their cells produce sugars such as monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
  • Just like animals, fungi lack chloroplasts and as a result, they do not make their food, they are heterotrophic.
  • Much like plants, fungi contain cellular cell walls and vacuoles and produce spores just like some types of plants.
  • Like bacteria, higher fungi produce L-lysine amino acid in the specific alpha-aminoadipate biosynthetic pathway.

The fungal properties that separate them from other organisms include:

  • Some fungal cells such as yeast reproduce by budding or fission. Some fungi can switch between these two reproduction methods; these fungi are called dimorphic fungi.
  • The fungal cell wall is made up of the chitin-glucan compound. Chitin is mainly found in arthropods and glucan is found in plants, but only fungi contain them both.
  • Fungi lack a complex system of transport like the xylems and phloem, instead, they use structures called rhizomorphs which resemble the roots of plants.

What are the advantages of fungi to the environment?

Fungi are one of the most important parts of our ecosystem. They bring balance to the ecosystem through their metabolic activities.

  • They help in the recycling of nutrients in the ecosystem through methods like nitrogen cycle, sulfur cycle, carbon cycle, and phosphorus cycle.
  • They help the leguminous plants to acquire nitrogenous nutrients through nitrogen fixation.
  • They help in the decomposition of the dead matter, clean the environment, and help in the release of important mineral matter.

What are the applications of fungi by man?

For a long time now, fungi have been exploited by human beings for different purposes. 

Fungi produce metabolic compounds that have been employed in many sectors such as medical, industrial, agricultural and domestic use.

The following are the uses of fungi.

  • Fungi are used in the production of antibiotics. Alexander Fleming used Penicillium notatum in 1927 to produce penicillin. Other species such as Penicillium chrysogenum are used.

Streptomyces aureofaciens fungal species is used in the production of tetracyclines and chloramphenicols.

  • Fungi are used in the production of vitamins. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is produced using Ashbya gossypii species of fungi.

Niacin ( vitamin B3), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), pantothenic acid, and thiamine are produced by the fungus R. oligosporus.

  • Fungal species have widely been used in the dairy industry.

The baker’s yeast and cream yeast are produced using Saccharomyces cerevisiae species of yeast.

Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium camemberti are fungal species used in the manufacturing of cheese.

  • Yeast is used in the liquor industry to produce alcohol.
  • Fungi are harvested and used as biofertilizers by humans.
  • Edible mushrooms such as Agaricus bisporus are used as food by humans.
  • Fungi are used on the farms to compete for resources with pathogens such as bacteria, this reduces the effects of pathogens on the plants.
  • Some fungal species such as Beauveria bassiana are used as pesticides.
  • Fungal species such as white rot fungi are used to degrade pesticides, herbicides, and coal tars in a process of bioremediation.
  • Fungi such as Aspergillus Niger are used to produce organic acids such as citric acid, acetic acid, lactic acid, and malic acid.
  • Fungi are also used in the production of enzymes such as lipases, amylases, xylanases, and cellulases.

What are fungal toxicity and pathogenicity?

Fungal toxicity is the ability of fungi to produce chemicals that are toxic to plants, humans, and animals.

Fungal pathogenicity is the ability of fungal species to cause diseases to other living organisms.

All fungi produce metabolic compounds that can be useful or toxic to other organisms.

The toxic metabolites are called mycotoxins and they cause harmful side effects to plants and animals.

According to a study, fungi are agents of a wide variety of human and plant diseases.

  • Mold produces toxic chemicals that cause food spoilage. They produce amatoxins in rye which cause ergotism.
  • Aspergillus species of fungi produce aflatoxins in cereals which are toxic to the liver and are potential carcinogens.
  • Some fungal species such as Ustilago maydis produce chemicals that cause teosinte disease in maize.
  • Cryptococcus neoformans inhabit the bodies of plants and animals and produce chemicals that affect the lungs.
  • Candidiasis is a disease that is caused by candida species of yeast.
  • Cryptococcosis is a disease caused by cryptococcus neoformans and cryptococcus gattii species. They attack individuals with HIV/AIDS.
  • The athlete’s foot is a common disease found between toes. It is caused by a ringworm type of fungi.

Conclusion.

This blog article has addressed the question of the biodegradability of fungi.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • The environmental impacts of fungi.
  • The differences between plants, animals, and fungi and also their similarities.
  • The industrial applications of fungi.
  • Fungal toxicity and pathogenicity.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): are fungi biodegradable?

What is fungal biodegradation?

This is the breakdown of organic materials into small biomass, carbon dioxide, and water or methane by fungi.

What organisms are biodegradable?

All living organisms are susceptible to biodegradation when they die. The process of biodegradation is carried out mainly by bacteria and fungi in the process of decomposition.

Is a mushroom a fungus?

Yes, mushrooms comprise the fungi kingdom of microorganisms.

They are in the same class as the yeasts, molds, and mildews.

Citations.

Hawksworth DL, Lücking R (July 2017). “Fungal Diversity Revisited: 2.2 to 3.8 Million Species”. The Fungal Kingdom. Microbiology Spectrum. Vol. 5. pp. 79–95. doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0052-

Baldauf SL, Palmer JD (December 1993). “Animals and fungi are each other’s closest relatives: congruent evidence from multiple proteins”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 90 (24): 11558–62. 

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