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The Fungi are the great saprophytes, the master recyclers.

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Characteristics of the Fungi
- The Fungi

We never eat bread cookies
For cookies have yeast,
And one little bite
Turns a man to a beast
O, can you imagine
A sadder disgrace
Than a man in the gutter
With crumbs on his face?

-- Song of the Salvation Army (trad.)

So, what about all those characteristics mentioned in the last section?  The following is a list of the most commonly cited characters shared by most Fungi:

  • The Fungi are eukayotes, which may exist in nature as either single and multi-celled organisms, or in both at different points in the the life cycle.
  • Fungi are avascular -- no specialized respiratory, digestive or transport systems beyond the hyphae themselves.
  • Most fungi grow as tubular filaments called hyphae. A connected mass of hyphae is a mycelium.
  • Fungi have a vegetative body called a thallus, composed of hyphae. 
  • The walls of hyphae are often reinforced with chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine.
  • Fungal cell membranes contain ergosterol, rather than cholesterol.
  • The Fungi have a unique biosynthetic pathway for lysine.
  • Fungi produce a unique form of tubulin in connection with nuclear division.  
  • Fungi have small nuclei with very little repetitive DNA
  • Mitosis occcurs without dissolution of the nuclear membrane. 
  • Fungi are never autotrophs.  No fungus has chlorophyll or chloroplasts. 
  • Fungi are usually found either as opportunistic saprophytes (living on dead organic matter) or in some parasitic or symbiotic relationship with plants or other autotroph. 
  • Fungi digest food outside their bodies: they release enzymes into the surrounding environment (exoenzymes), breaking down organic matter into a form the fungus can absorb
  • food reserves stores as glycogen (like animals), not starch (like plants).  
  • Fungi reproduce by means of spores, budding, or fragmentation.   
  • Spores may be either sexual or aesexual.
  • Spores may be used as a dormant, resting phase, like bacterial spores

In short, Fungi are a rather odd, and distinctly different, part of the tree of life. 

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