|Amazing fungi at Fountains Abbey|
Fungi have been used by humans for lots of things for centuries. I'm going to cover some of the uses I have found out that you may not know about as well as a few you probably will.
The first fungi that you probably know about and its uses is yeast. This is used to make something most of us eat quite often. Bread! Yeast works by fermenting sugars, basically that means turning them from sugar into alcohol, and releasing a gas, carbon dioxide. That's what makes the bread rise, lots of little pockets of gas in the dough which set when it bakes. Baking makes any alcohol evaporate.
By fermenting sugars in liquids you get something quite different like beer or wine, this time it's the carbon dioxide that escapes and leaves the alcohol behind!
|Shaggy Inkcap fungus dripping ink|
There's also the Puffballs. These were actually used by our ancestors as a sort of healer. When you flick a Puffball it will puff out (hence the name) a sort of green-brown mist of spores. This is actually a good medicine for cuts and that sort of thing. There once was a time when every single blacksmith in England had some of these to hand, just in case they cut themselves.
One thing on Fungi in general. If there is any extra-terrestrial life out there (and I'm sure there is), fungi are likely to be among all of it in general. As science has proved, they can use radiation, instead of sunlight, to grow, some planets may have a fair amount of this so we may soon see some ET's out there!
|Fungi may be able to use radiation rather than the sun to grow.|
There is a particular type of Fungus called, Cordyceps. These are fungi that, once eaten by an ant, will infect the ant's brain making it walk upwards. It will hang onto a stem with its feet and will be killed by the fungus. Then, the fruiting body of the fungus will sprout out of the ant's head and, after about 3 weeks or so, will erupt with new spores which more ants will eat. But don't worry, that's highly unlikely to happen to us! This could be useful to us as we may be able to find fungi that help to control crop pests.
Here's a video to explain it better by BBC Earth:
In fact fungi are great allies for us and have been used to make medicines such as penicillin. In 1928, when Alexander Fleming was studying flu, he noticed that a mould had grown accidentally on one of the dishes of bacteria. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself, basically, it had killed the bacteria around it. Fleming experimented further and called the substance penicillin. Two other scientists then developed it into the drug that it is now.
One last thing on useful Fungi, we need them to survive. Without a type of Fungi called Mycorrhizal fungi many plants would not survive, and as plants create oxygen for us we wouldn't last very long without them. Most plants rely on Mycorrhizal fungi around their roots to provide nutrients and water acting as an extension to their roots. The fungi get some sugars from the plants in exchange.
Here's a few links to further information:
BBC - Alexander Flemming
Live Science - 6 ways Fungi can help humanity
Kew Gardens - Fungi's Importance
I also got a lot of this information from a Ray Mears clip from when he was very young: