The Fungi Help
Introduction to The Fungi
Slime molds are fungus-like protists. Being thin, slimy, and amoeba-shaped, the slime molds feed on decomposing organic matter. This technically makes them saprobes ( SAH -probes) or “rotten” (sapr) “livers” (-obes)! Many of the fungi, similar to the slime molds, are saprobes that release enzymes which partially digest the dead remains of previously living organisms. These digestive enzymes are largely responsible for the rotting or decomposition of dead organic matter. The saprobes then absorb nutrients as small molecules released by the digestion of dead, rotting remains. These saprobes are formally called the saprophytic ( sap -roh- FIT -ik) fungi, since they get much of their nutrition from dead leaves and other parts of “plants” (phyt) that are “rotting.”
The fungi were first introduced (Chapter 3) as plant-like organisms that are parasites of either dead or living organic matter. Thus, a difference between fungi and slime molds is that some fungi are parasites of living organisms. These parasitic ( pear -ah- SIT -ik) fungi (as opposed to the saprophytic fungi) absorb small nutrient molecules from the cells of living hosts. Living human beings, for example, can suffer from parasitic fungal ( FUN -gul) infections of their skin.
Many fungi are also pathogenic (disease-producing) in other living animals, as well as plants. Obviously, since they are parasites that live on others, fungi contain no chlorophyll and cannot carry out photosynthesis.
The word fungus comes from the Latin for “mushroom.” The Kingdom Fungi consists of molds and yeasts, as well as mushrooms (Figure 8.1). The yeasts are unicellular organisms, whereas both molds and mushrooms are multicellular ones. The general categories of molds, yeasts, and mushrooms all contain examples of both saprophytic and parasitic species of fungi.
Practice problems for these concepts can be found at: The Fungi: Not Just Mushrooms Test
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