Mushrooms are a kind of fungal reproductive structure

Mycology (from the Greek μύκης, mukēs, meaning "fungus") is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi, including their genetic and biochemical properties, their taxonomy and their use to humans as a source for tinder, medicinals (e.g., penicillin), food (e.g., beer, wine, cheese, edible mushrooms) and entheogens, as well as their dangers, such as poisoning or infection.

From mycology arose the field of phytopathology, the study of plant diseases, and the two disciplines remain closely related because the vast majority of "plant" pathogens are fungi. A biologist who studies mycology is called a mycologist.

Historically, mycology was a branch of botany because, although fungi are evolutionarily more closely related to animals than to plants, this was not recognized until a few decades ago. Pioneer mycologists included Elias Magnus Fries, Christian Hendrik Persoon, Anton de Bary and Lewis David von Schweinitz.

Today the most comprehensively studied and understood fungi are yeasts and eukaryotic model organisms Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe.

Many fungi produce toxins, antibiotics and other secondary metabolites. For example the cosmopolitan (worldwide) genus Fusarium and their toxins associated with fatal outbreaks of alimentary toxic aleukia in humans were extensively studied by Abraham Joffe.

Fungi are fundamental for life on earth in their roles as symbionts, e.g. in the form of mycorrhizae, insect symbionts and lichens. Many fungi are able to break down complex organic biomolecules such as lignin, the more durable component of wood, and pollutants such as xenobiotics, petroleum, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. By decomposing these molecules, fungi play a critical role in the global carbon cycle.

Fungi and other organisms traditionally recognized as fungi, such as oomycetes and myxomycetes (slime molds), often are economically and socially important as some cause diseases of animals (such as histoplasmosis) as well as plants (such as Dutch elm disease and Rice blast).

Field meetings to find interesting species of fungi are known as 'forays', after the first such meeting organized by the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club in 1868 and entitled "a foray among the fungi."

Some fungi can cause disease in humans or other organisms. The study of pathogenic fungi is referred to as medical mycology.[1]



Humans probably started collecting mushrooms as food in Prehistoric times. Mushrooms were first written about in the works of Euripides (480-406 B.C.). The Greek philosopher Theophrastos of Eressos (371-288 B.C.) was perhaps the first to try to systematically classify plants; mushrooms were considered to be plants that were missing certain organs. It was later Pliny the elder (23–79 A.D.), who wrote about truffles in his encyclopedia Naturalis historia.

The Middle Ages saw little advancement in the body of knowledge about fungi. Rather, the invention of the printing press allowed some authors to disseminate superstitions and misconceptions about the fungi that had been perpetuated by the classical authors.[2]

Fungi and truffles are neither herbs, nor roots, nor flowers, nor seeds, but merely the superfluous moisture or earth, of trees, or rotten wood, and of other rotting things. This is plain from the fact that all fungi and truffles, especially those that are used for eating, grow most commonly in thundery and wet weather.

—Jerome Bock (Hieronymus Tragus), 1552[3]

The start of the modern age of mycology begins with Pier Antonio Micheli's 1737 publication of Nova plantarum genera.[4] Published in Florence, this seminal work laid the foundations for the systematic classification of grasses, mosses and fungi. The term mycology and the complementary mycologist were first used in 1836 by M.J. Berkeley.[5]

Medicinal mycology

For centuries, certain mushrooms have been documented as a folk medicine in China, Japan, and Russia.[6] Although the use of mushrooms in folk medicine is largely centered on the Asian continent, people in other parts of the world like the Middle East, Poland and Belarus have been documented using mushrooms for medicinal purposes.[7][8] Certain mushrooms, especially polypores like Reishi were thought to be able to benefit a wide variety of health ailments. Medicinal mushroom research in the United States is currently active, with studies taking place at City of Hope National Medical Center,[9][10] as well as the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center.[11]

Current research focuses on mushrooms that may have hypoglycemic activity, anti-cancer activity, anti-pathogenic activity, and immune system enhancing activity. Recent research has found that the oyster mushroom naturally contains the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin,[12] mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to UV light,[13] and that certain fungi may be a future source of taxol.[14] To date, penicillin, lovastatin, ciclosporin, griseofulvin, cephalosporin, ergometrine, and statins are the most famous pharmaceuticals which have been isolated from the fungi kingdom.

See also


  1. ^ San-Blas G; Calderone RA (editors). (2008). Pathogenic Fungi. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-32-5 . 
  2. ^ Ainsworth, p. 13.
  3. ^ De stirpium maxime earum quae in Germania nostra nascuntur, usitatis nomenclaturis. Strasbourg. In Ainsworth, p. 13, quoting Buller, AHR. (1915). Micheli and the discovery of reproduction in fungi. Transactions of the royal Society of Canada, series 3 9: 1–25.
  4. ^ Ainsworth, p. 4.
  5. ^ Ainsworth, p. 2.
  6. ^ Smith JE, Rowan NJ, Sullivan R (May 2002). "Medicinal Mushrooms: Their therapeutic properties and current medical usage with special emphasis on cancer treatments". Cancer Research UK. p. 5. 
  7. ^ Sarfaraz Khan Marwat, Mir Ajab Khan, Muhammad Aslam Khan, Mushtaq Ahmad, Muhammad Zafar, Fazal-ur-Rehman and Shazia Sultana (2009). "Vegetables mentioned in the Holy Qura’n and Ahadith and their ethnomedicinal studies in Dera Ismail Khan, N.W.F.P., Pakistan". Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 8 (5): 530–538.  Sahih Muslim, Book 23, Chapter 27, Hadiths
  8. ^ Shashkina MIa, Shashkin PN, Sergeev AV (October 2006). "[Chemical and medicobiological properties of Chaga (review)]". Farmatsevtychnyĭ zhurnal 40 (10). doi:10.1007/s11094-006-0194-4. 
  9. ^ Di Rado, Alicia (July 2008). "A salad fixin' with medical benefits?". EHope (City of Hope National Medical Center) 7 (7). 
  10. ^ Di Rado, Alicia (November 2008). "Can a mushroom help fight lung cancer?". EHope (City of Hope National Medical Center) 7 (11). 
  11. ^ Deng G, Lin H, Seidman A (September 2009). "A phase I/II trial of a polysaccharide extract from Grifola frondosa (Maitake mushroom) in breast cancer patients: immunological effects". Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology 135 (9): 1215–21. doi:10.1007/s00432-009-0562-z. PMID 19253021. 
  12. ^ Gunde-Cimerman N, Cimerman A. (Mar 1995), "Pleurotus fruiting bodies contain the inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase-lovastatin.", Exp Mycol. 19 (1): 1–6, doi:10.1006/emyc.1995.1001, ISSN 0147-5975, PMID 7614366 
  13. ^ Bowerman, Susan (March 31, 2008), "If mushrooms see the light", The Los Angeles Times, 
  14. ^ Ji, Y; Bi; Yan; Zhu (Jan 2006), "Taxol-producing fungi: a new approach to industrial production of taxol" (Free full text), Sheng wu gong cheng xue bao = Chinese journal of biotechnology 22 (1): 1–6, ISSN 1000-3061, PMID 16572833, 


Ainsworth, G. C. (1976). Introduction to the History of Mycology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-21013-5. 

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