The Fungi Portal

A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are inconspicuous to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce.

Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Boletus edulis, commonly known as penny bun, porcino or cep, is a basidiomycete fungus, and the type species of the genus Boletus. Widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere across Europe, Asia, and North America, it does not occur naturally in the Southern Hemisphere, although it has been introduced to southern Africa and New Zealand. Several closely related European mushrooms formerly thought to be varieties or forms of B. edulis have been shown using molecular phylogenetic analysis to be distinct species. The western North American species commonly known as the California king bolete (Boletus edulis var. grandedulis) is a large, darker-coloured variant that was first formally identified in 2008.

The fungus grows in deciduous and coniferous forests and tree plantations, forming symbiotic ectomycorrhizal associations with living trees by enveloping sheaths of fungal tissue around their underground roots. The fungus produces spore-bearing fruit bodies above ground in summer and autumn. The fruit body consists of a large and imposing brown cap which on occasion can reach at least 35 cm (14 in) in diameter and 3 kg (6.6 lb) in weight. Like other boletes, it has tubes extending downward from the underside of the cap, rather than gills; spores are released at maturity through the tube openings, or pores. The pore surface of the B. edulis fruit body is whitish when young, but ages to a greenish-yellow. The stout stipe, or stem, is white or yellowish in colour, up to 25 cm (10 in) tall and 10 cm (3.9 in) thick, and partially covered with a raised network pattern, or reticulations.

Prized as an ingredient in various foods, B. edulis is an edible mushroom held in high regard in many cuisines, and is commonly prepared and eaten in soups, pasta, or risotto. The mushroom is low in fat and digestible carbohydrates, and high in protein, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Although it is sold commercially, it has not been successfully grown in cultivation. Available fresh in autumn in Central, Southern and Northern Europe, it is most often dried, packaged and distributed worldwide. Keeping its flavour after drying, it is then reconstituted and used in cooking. Boletus edulis is one of the few fungi that are sold pickled. The fungus also produces a variety of organic compounds with a diverse spectrum of biological activity, including the steroid derivative ergosterol, a sugar binding protein, antiviral compounds, antioxidants, and phytochelatins, which give the organism resistance to toxic heavy metals.

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Amanita rubrovolvata, commonly known as the red volva amanita, is a species of fungus in the family Amanitaceae. First described scientifically by the Japanese mycologist S. Imai in 1939, it is widely distributed in eastern Asia. The fungus produces small- to medium-sized mushrooms, with reddish-orange caps up to 6.5 mm (0.26 in) wide. The stems are up to 100 mm (3.9 in) tall, cream above the ring and cream to yellowish below it. The stem ends in a roughly spherical bulb at the base, which is covered with bright orange patches. Neither edibility nor toxicity have been established for the fungus, but it is suspected to be associated with neurological anomalies. Several molecular studies have confirmed the mushroom's classification in the subgenus Amanita of the genus Amanita, along with closely related species such as A. muscaria.
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Credit: Nathan Wilson
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