A fungus is a member of the eukaryotic group of organisms, which also comprise other micro organisms like molds and yeasts. At the same time, it also includes multi-cellular fungi having fruiting forms called mushrooms. All these organisms are classified as a separate kingdom, dubbed fungi. This kingdom is different from other living kingdoms, including plants, animals, bacteria and protists.
Fungi have a number of uses and the most essential use of this organism is to facilitate the decomposition of dead organic substances in the soil. In the absence of fungi, it would take much longer for biological refuse to degrade. If this happens, it will be difficult for the future generation organisms to make use of the essential elements contained by such dead organic matter. While fungi may resemble plants, actually they are more intimately related to animals. It may be noted that the study of mushroom is called mycology.
The main attribute of fungi that distinguishes them from other living organisms is that they have a chitinous cell wall. Chitin is a very durable material that is also found in the shells of several insects. Fungi often have a filamentous structure, which is called mycelium. They possess the ability to reproduce both sexually as well as asexually through spores. In the case of mushrooms, these spores are visible and they appear as black powder beneath the cap.
Since long, humans have been utilizing fungi for a number of purposes. Most of us are aware that yeasts are utilized for the puffy consistency of bread. Several mushrooms are also included in various dishes. For instance, the Portobello mushroom is a very popular species. On the other hand, a number of fungi are vital for fermentation process, which is necessary for making alcoholic beverages. Even the peculiar smell and, occasionally, the color of cheese are attributed to the careful addition of fungi. Then again, people have been traditionally consuming Psilocybin mushrooms for long owing to their exceptional hallucinogenic properties. It is interesting to note that some mushroom species even have creative names. For instance, mushrooms named "death cap" and "destroying angel" is extremely poisonous. Consumption of these mushrooms can result in death within a few hours.
In recent times, a section of agricultural scientists have grown fungi for being used as bio-pesticides, with a view to reduce the usage of chemical pesticides that not only pollute the environment, but are very harmful for all animals, including humans. Bio-pesticides or beneficial fungi possess the aptitude to produce alkaloid that is toxic to an assortment of insects and various other pests.
Fungi can be found in a variety of habitats, counting the depths of lakes and oceans, in rocks and deserts, very saline environments and in areas having extreme temperatures. Some fungi can also manage to survive even after exposure to powerful ultra-violet (UV) as well as cosmic radiation, which are usually come across during space travel. During the entire period for which the Mir space station remained in orbit, about 13 years in all, astronomers found that mutated fungi damaged several equipments constantly. Initially, they believed that faulty workmanship was responsible for the damages, but eventually it was found that mutated fungi were the culprits. However, most of the fungi live on land.
Fungi can be found in practically every square meter on the surface of our plant, Earth. They generally inhabit places that do not undergo freezing permanently or areas that are not sterilized meticulously. You can only restrict the growth and spread of fungi by making use of a refrigerator or freezer.
Fungal infections, especially those of the skin, are very widespread. These include jock itch, athlete's feet, and yeast as well as ringworm infections.
Also known as tinea pedis, athlete's foot is basically a fungal contagion of the feet. This condition results in redness of the skin, itching, burning sensation, peeling and occasionally sores and blisters.
Athlete's foot is among the most common infections. Fungus prefers to survive in a warm and humid environment, such as those in the socks, inside shoes, locker rooms, in swimming pools and the floorboards of public bathrooms. In fact, this infection is more widespread during the summer months and also when the climatic conditions are warm and moist. Athlete's foot is more common in people wearing very tight shoes and also people who often use community pools and baths.
This fungal infection is also known as tinea cruris. This is a very familiar skin infection attributed to a fungus called tinea. Like other fungi, tinea also thrives well in warm and humid areas of our body. Consequently, jock itch usually affects the inner thighs, genitals and the buttocks. This type of infection occurs more often during the summer months and when the climatic conditions are wet and warm. This infection results in reddish, itchy rashes, which appear in the form of rings.
Ringworm is not a worm, but a fungal infection also known as tinea corporis. This infection occurs on the skin. Ringworm may occur on any part of the body. Appearance-wise, ringworm is a spherical, reddish, flat sore. Very often this fungal skin infection is accompanied by flaking skin. While the skin in the middle of the sore has a normal appearance, the outer parts may be somewhat elevated. On many occasions, ringworm is an ugly condition, but usually it is not a grave condition.
Ringworm is a contagious condition that often spreads when healthy people come in contact with people and animals affected by the fungus. At the same time, this condition can also spread through clothes or furniture where the fungus has made its home. Heat and moist conditions help the fungus responsible for ringworm spread faster.
Ringworm causes spherical, reddish, flat sores, which are occasionally accompanied by peeling skin. When this fungus infects the skin, there may be several patches on the skin, which may be overlapped by red rings of rash. One can suffer from ringworm, but not have the common symptoms like the usual reddish rings of rash.
Also known as cutaneous candidiasis, yeast infections on the skin are attributed to a fungus named Candida, which is similar to yeasts. This condition occurs when the yeast present on the skin surface grows very actively causing a reddish, itchy and peeling rash. Yeast infections or cutaneous candidiasis are not infectious.
Cutaneous candidiasis may occur on the skin surface on any part of our body. However, usually they occur in body areas that are moist, warm and creased, such as armpits and groins. Candida infections are particularly widespread among obese people or those who are suffering from diabetes. In addition, people who are taking antibiotics are also vulnerable to yeast infections (cutaneous candidiasis).
The fungus Candida may result in diaper rash in small children, in addition to causing nail infections. Even oral thrush is one type of Candida infection that occurs inside the mouth. Candida may also lead to vaginal yeast infections.