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Big questions: What are fungi? What are mushrooms? Are mushrooms plants?

Once Upon a Time mushrooms were thought to be plants – but they are really fungi, a kingdom of life that wouldn’t be understood until the 1800’s.


There’s more than one way to classify life

In 1977 Carl Woese created the Three Domain classification:

Bacteria – microscopic, single-celled organisms

Archaea — microscopic, single-celled organisms, but their DNA and biochemistry is totally unlike bacteria. In fact – despite appearances, their genes are slightly more closely related to us!

Eukarya – Cells with complex internal organelles. Within Eukara we have:

Fungi – including mushrooms and yeasts!

Here you can see fungi, and their place in the family tree of life on Earth

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

Differences between fungi and bacteria





Sample questions

Feb 2016 MCAS.  Medicines called antifungals are used to treat infections caused by fungi. One way antifungals work is by targeting cell parts that are present in fungal cells but not in human cells.

c. Identify one cell part other than a ribosome or a plasma membrane that human cells and fungal cells have in common.

d. Describe what would happen to a human cell if the cell part you identified in part (c) were affected by an antifungal. Explain your answer based on the function of the cell part.

Learning Standards

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum FrameworkLife

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. Patterns of development may be brought in to further illustrate similarities and differences among organisms. Also, they 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.


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