Home » Biology » Classification » Fungi


Learning goals

Finding fungi on the tree of life

What are the characteristics of fungi?

Differences between fungi and plants

Differences between fungi and bacteria

The different types of fungi

What are some uses of fungi?

What are some fungal diseases?

Classifying fungi on the tree of life

Look closely at this cladogram (history of evolution shown in a “tree” form)

This shows that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants! So what does this mean?

Phylogenetic Tree of Life by Ciccarelli in March 2006 Science

Image by Madeleine Price Ball. Simplified universal phylogenetic tree, made using information from the Interactive Tree of Life. Ciccarelli, et al., Mar 3 2006, Science Vol. 311

Characteristics of fungi

Like animals, fungi are

* eukaryotic – cells have organelles, each with their own job

* multicellular = made of many cells attached together (except yeast)

* heterotrophs – they can’t make their own food (like plants do.) Instead, like animals, they need to (somehow) obtain food

Unlike animals, fungi are different from animals in some ways:

* fungi have cell walls & cell cell membranes. (Animals only have membranes)

* fungi have no sense organs

* fungi can’t ingest/eat food: they have to absorb it.

* fungi can’t move

Difference between fungi and plants

  • Once upon a time mushrooms were thought to be plants.

  • But they are really a separate kingdom of life that wouldn’t be understood until the 1800’s.

  • Unlike plants, fungi have no chlorophyll.

  • Therefore they can’t perform photosynthesis

Differences between fungi and bacteria

Fungus versus bacteria

Bacteria versus Fungi Fungus Hypha Bacillus
Image from: Differences between virus, bacteria and fungi, Scientific Toolkit, scitk.org


Types of fungi

Yeasts are a type of fungi.

Yeasts are a single-celled organisms.

Yeast for baking

from blog.kingarthurflour.com

Yeast cells collage

Molds are also a type of fungus.

Molds have long, branching, thread-like filaments called hyphae.

Molds grow into colonies large enough to see even without a microscope.

types of mold

Image from blackmoldresources.com

Mushrooms are also a form of fungus.

They also have long filaments that grow together into a “mushroom cap”.

What are some uses of fungi?

Yeast is often used for baking.

Baking bread rising dough

Image by louloubrisefer, Imgur.com

Click here to learn about The chemistry of bread baking.

Yeast is used for brewing beer and for fermenting wine.

Coffee wouldn’t taste good without yeast. We don’t just take coffee beans and roast them. Instead, we let the coffee beans sit outside and dry – and natural, wild yeast spores fall on to the beans and then ferment them just slightly. This changes their flavor, for the better.

Drying coffee beans

Image from Angela7dreams on Flickr

Outdoor yeasts also naturally ferment cacao (chocolate) beans.

Drying cocoa cacao beans

Some mold-like fungi are edible and healthy, and can be used to make vegetarian food, such as Quorn.

Quorn Mycoprotein fungi


Lichens and fungi

Lichens, and how they are related to fungi.

What are some fungal diseases?

Of course some varieties of fungus are bad for us! Some cause diseases such as:

Athlete’s foot

Candidiasis – can occur in the mouth and throat, vagina, or the bloodstream.

Fungal nail infections

Ringworm – a fungal skin infection

Yeast infections also can exist in someone’s sinuses, or in any other body cavity.


Further reading





Learning Standards

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

Life Science (Biology), Grades 6–8. Classify organisms into the currently recognized kingdoms according to characteristics that they share. Be familiar with organisms from each kingdom.

Biology, High School. 5.2 Describe species as reproductively distinct groups of organisms. Recognize that species are further classified into a hierarchical taxonomic system (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) based on morphological, behavioral, and molecular similarities.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Students should begin to extend their attention from external anatomy to internal structures and functions… [students] should move from their invented classification systems to those used in modern biology… A classification system is a framework created by scientists for describing the vast diversity of organisms, indicating the degree of relatedness between organisms, and framing research questions.

SAT Biology Subject Area Test

Evolution and diversity: Origin of life, evidence of evolution, patterns of evolution, natural selection, speciation, classification and diversity of organisms.

%d bloggers like this: