Lactarius deliciosus
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Kingdom Fungi

Though the appearance of many fungi may resemble plants, they are probably more closely related to animals. Fungi are not capable of performing photosynthesis, so must get their nourishment from other sources. Many fungi absorb nutrients directly from t he soil. Many others feed on dead and decaying organisms and therefore have an important role in the recycling of nutrients in natural systems. Still others feed on living organisms. Athlete's foot is a common fungus which feeds on a living host - you!

When you think of fungi, you probably think of the mushrooms we can buy at the supermarket or hunt for in the woods. However, those "mushrooms" are really just special structures called "fruiting bodies" produced by the fungus for reproduction. The rest of the fungus (and the biggest part) lives below the ground.

Fungi come in a wide variety of sizes and forms, and many have great economic importance. Tiny, one-celled yeasts are important for baking breads and fermenting wines, beers and vinegars. Many medicines are produced with the help of fungi, most notably, the antibiotic, Penicillin. If you leave your bread on the counter too long, you'll be able to observe a relative of the Penicillium mold for yourself!

Last modified January 19, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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