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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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Gyromitra esculenta
Gyromitra esculenta is an ascomycete fungus from the genus Gyromitra, widely distributed across Europe and North America and one of several species of fungi known as false morels. It normally sprouts in sandy soils under coniferous trees, in spring and early summer. The fruiting body, or mushroom, is an irregular brain-shaped cap dark brown in colour which can reach 10 cm (4 in) high and 15 cm (6 in) wide, perched on a stout white stipe up to 6 cm (2.4 in) high.

Although potentially fatal if eaten raw, Gyromitra esculenta is a popular delicacy in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and the upper Great Lakes region of North America. It may be sold fresh in Finland, but it must be accompanied by warnings and instructions on correct preparation. It is eaten in omelettes, soups, or sautéed in Finnish cuisine. Once popular in the Pyrenees, it is now prohibited from sale for consumption in Spain.

Although it is still commonly consumed after parboiling, recent evidence suggests that even this procedure may not make the fungus entirely safe; thus raising concerns of risk even when prepared properly. When consumed, the false morel's principal active agent, gyromitrin, is metabolized into the toxic compound monomethylhydrazine (MMH). The toxin affects the liver, central nervous system, and sometimes the kidneys. Symptoms of poisoning involve vomiting and diarrhea several hours after consumption, followed by dizziness, lethargy and headache. Severe cases may lead to delirium, coma and death after 5–7 days.

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Lysurus periphragmoides.jpg
Lysurus periphragmoides, commonly known as the stalked lattice stinkhorn or chambered stinkhorn, is a species of fungus in the stinkhorn family. It was originally described as Simblum periphragmoides in 1831, and has been known as many different names before being transferred to Lysurus in 1980. The saprobic fungus has a pantropical distribution, and has been found in Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Americas, where it grows on fertile ground and on mulch. The fruit body, which can extend up to 15 cm (5.9 in) tall, consists of a reddish latticed head (a receptaculum) placed on top of a long stalk. A dark olive-green spore mass, the gleba, fills the interior of the lattice and extends outwards between the arms. Like other members of the Phallaceae family, the gleba has a fetid odor that attracts flies and other insects to help disperse its spores. The immature "egg" form of the fungus is considered edible.

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Haeckel Lichenes.jpg
Credit: Ernst Haeckel
An illustration of various species of Lichen, from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur.

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