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Portal:Fungi

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Fungi

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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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Sarcoscypha coccinea
Sarcoscypha coccinea, commonly known as the scarlet elf cup, or the scarlet cup, is a species of fungus in the Sarcoscyphaceae family of the Pezizales order. The fungus, widely distributed in the northern hemisphere, has been found in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The type species of the genus Sarcoscypha, it has been known by many names since its first appearance in the scientific literature in 1772. Phylogenetic analysis shows the species to be most closely related to other Sarcoscypha species that contain numerous small oil droplets in their spores, such as the North Atlantic island species S. macaronesica. Due to similar physical appearances and sometimes overlapping distributions, S. coccinea has often been confused with S. occidentalis, S. austriaca, and S. dudleyi.

The saprobic fungus grows on decaying sticks and branches in damp spots on forest floors, generally buried under leaf litter or in the soil. The cup-shaped fruit bodies are usually produced during the cooler months of winter and early spring. The brilliant red interior of the cups—from which both the common and scientific names are derived—contrasts with the lighter-colored exterior. The edibility of the fruit bodies is not clearly established, but its small size, tough texture and insubstantial fruitings would dissuade most people from collecting for the table. The fungus has been used medicinally by the Oneida Indians, and also as a colorful component of table decorations in England. The species Molliardiomyces eucoccinea is an imperfect form of the fungus that lacks a sexually reproductive stage in its life cycle.

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Mycena galopus 68060.jpg
Mycena galopus, commonly known as the milking bonnet or the milk-drop Mycena, is an inedible species of fungus in the Mycenaceae family of the Agaricales order. It produces small mushrooms that have grayish-brown, bell-shaped, radially-grooved caps up to 2.5 cm (1.0 in) wide. The gills are whitish to gray, widely spaced, and squarely attached to the stem. The slender stems are up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long, and pale gray at the top, becoming almost black at the hairy base. The stem will ooze a whitish latex if it is injured or broken. The variety nigra has a dark gray cap, while the variety candida is white. All varieties of the mushroom occur during summer and autumn on leaf litter in coniferous and deciduous woodland.

Mycena galopus is found in North America and Europe. The saprobic fungus is an important leaf litter decomposer, and able to utilize all the major constituents of plant litter. It is especially adept at attacking cellulose and lignin, the latter of which is the second most abundant renewable organic compound in the biosphere. The mushroom latex contains chemicals called benzoxepines, which are thought to play a role in a wound-activated chemical defense mechanism against yeasts and parasitic fungi.

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Clavaria zollingeri 90973.jpg
Credit: Dan Molter
Clavaria zollingeri growing from woodland litter.

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