Life Science: Session 2
Classifying Living Things: The Fungus Kingdom
What features distinguish fungi from other life forms?
Fungi are multicellular eukaryotes. Like plants, their cells are enclosed by a cell wall, although fungal cell walls are composed of a different compound from plant cells, called chitin. This compound is very similar to the compound found in the hard skeletons of insects. Like animals, fungi are unable to make food and thus require an external food source. However, instead of ingesting food, fungi take in food through absorption. From tiny root-like hairs that penetrate the surface of the food, digestive chemicals are secreted onto food sources outside of the organism. The food is broken down into nutrient molecules and is absorbed into fungal cells.
How are fungi important to people?
Fungi are very important as decomposers in a range of terrestrial ecosystems. By breaking down dead organisms, fungi serve to keep important elements, such as nitrogen, cycling in the environment. Like plants, fungi are also the source of significant biochemicals. One of the most important discoveries in medicine is the antibiotic penicillin, which was actually taken from common bread mold!
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