Fungi are living organisms. They used to be grouped together with plants but they are distantly related. They are perhaps more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi consist of molds, yeasts and mushrooms. Yeasts are single-celled organisms (like bacteria) while molds are long branching thread-like filaments (hyphae) that form visible colonies. Mushrooms are also filamentous fungi that form large “mushroom cap”.
Fungi are recognized by the following characteristics:
- Similarly to plants and animal cells, fungal cells contain nuclei with chromosomes.
- They have no chlorophyl, and hence they cannot photosynthesize (they are heterotrophic, like animals)
- Fungi absorb their food (they are osmotrophic)
- The body of a majority of fungi is comprised of a spreading network of very narrow, tubular, branching filaments called hyphae. These filaments exude enzymes, and absorb food, at their growing tips. Although these filaments are very narrow, they are collectively very long, and can explore and exploit food substrates very efficiently. This group is commonly referred to as mold. A small group of fungi, the yeasts, exists as single cells.
- Fungi generally reproduce by means of spores, which develop on, and are released by, a range of unique structures (such as mushrooms, cup fungi, and many other kinds of microscopically small fruiting bodies).