Benefits of Fungi: An Overview
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Fungi play a critical role in our ecosystem and host systems more than many realize. Fungi are a large group of eukaryotic organisms that encompass different characteristics that allow them to have multi faceted roles in our society. Fungi aid in benefitting the ecosystem by decomposing dead matter creating a recyclable source of nutrients. Many plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi allowing both organisms to survive in various environmental changes. Certain fungi like yeast can be recombined and inserted into plant genomes to allow expression of certain proteins that prevent loss of crops. Within the human systems fungi aid in maintaining normal flora and they are used in antibiotic and viral drug therapies. Fungi are commonly known to be pathogenic; however, they are present everywhere in our environment and have many beneficial effects on hosts like providing nutrients to organisms, working with plants to increase absorption, providing antibiotics and antiviral medications for humans, they aid in biotechnology by mass producing a hybrid organism, and they provide a source of food and nutrients to animals.
Whether people realize it or not, many things they do when handling food is related to preventing growth of fungi. A common fungal growth is bread mold or Rhizopus stolonifer that invades bread and spreads quickly. People are cautious of moldy bread because of the irritation it has on the GI tract. On the other hand, there are fungi that can cause severe symptoms like sepsis, consolidations in the lungs that causes pneumonia, nephritis, mengititis and endocarditis (San-Blas). These symptoms will not only hospitalize patients, but there is a chance that they can die from these infections if it is not detected early enough. Parasitic fungi exist, but they are a small group of fungi.
Many fungi have a mutualistic, symbiotic or saprophytic relationship with their host. Saprophytic fungi specifically are mostly chemohetrotrophs that endocytose dead organic matter and break down matter by release proteases that breakdown protein into amino acids, lipases that break down fatty acids into glycerol, and amylases that break down starch into simple sugars (Clegg). There are external factors that contribute to how fast the dead organic matter is digested like soil pH, temperature, ion, Oxygen, and water levels. Breaking down organic matter is important because nutrients become recycled and reused by other organisms (Whitman). Even when the fungal hyphae die the nutrients can be taken up by plants directly. This specifically helps hosts like plants, bacteria and other microorganisms so that they can take up monomers easily.
Mycorrhizae is a type of fungi that is known for its symbiotic relationship with certain plants. Some plants can be more susceptible of Mycorrhizae invasion based on its niche, environment and competitor for resources. This rhizomorphs efficiently transfer water and ions to the plant roots during environmental stresses (Klironomos). Many plants digest inorganic nitrogen, which is not readily available; however, the rhizomorphs can fix organic nitrogen for the plant allowing biochemical reactions to occur swiftly. This benefits the plant by increasing the amount of nutrients during a drought or unbalanced osmotic level. The fungus increases the surface area benefitting the plant and in return the plant provides the fungus with carbon products created from photosynthesis (Whitman).
Fungus like yeast has another application that benefits hosts. Recently the applications of recombinant plasmids have been applied to organisms to express a gene of interest. For instance, yeasts were genetically transformed to produce vaccines for hepatitis B. They are also used to produce insulin, which is a drug that helps diabetic patient's decrease their blood sugar levels. Proinsulin is a gene that is inserted into the yeast plasmid to form a hybrid plasmid and the yeast will express the proinsulin gene that is modified by the body into functional insulin (Krasner). The yeast provides the body with the ability to regulate the sugar levels, which helps humans and other mammals with diabetes. Yeast is a great model to use in biotechnology because it is easy to grow, inexpensive and there is extensive research done on them. Yeast benefits humans by producing genetically altered drug therapies and studying them has provided insight into complex organism systems.
The medical application of fungi is the ability to produce antibiotics from fungal metabolites. In order to survive in the ecosystem fungi produce chemicals that prevent bacteria from invading them, which acts as a form of self defense. Penicillium notatum is the fungi that derive the Penicillium antibiotic, which became popular during World War II for saving the lives of many soldiers by killing foreign parasitic microbes (Mailer). Another benefit is the fruiting body of the fungus can be edible. Many people incorporate mushrooms into their diet because of the richness of Potassium, vitamins, and low sodium and fat levels. Overall, the benefits of fungi outweigh the harmful effects because of the many roles they play with different organisms.
The benefits of fungi outweigh those of bacteria and viruses for humans. Bacteria are heavily used in biotechnology to express a gene of interest similar to yeast. However, the bacteria community becomes more vigorous due to over prescribed antibiotics that kill the weak bacteria and the resistant bacteria remain. The resistant bacteria will grow exponentially and horizontally gene transfer can occur with other bacteria that can make them more pathogenic. Humans don't have a 'cure' for viruses. There are gene therapies that are available, but there is difficulty forming drugs to fight viruses because they invade human cells. There are certain targeted therapies, but they have an effect on human systems too that create ill side effects. Also, viruses have the ability to become cancerous because of the potential to over proliferate, which disrupts tissue organization.
In conclusion, fungi are a group of organism that exists and help other organism by increasing nutrient absorption, providing a nutrient full meal, used in the formation of antibiotics, antivirals and involved in gene therapy. Fungi affect many different hosts like plants, mammals and the environment. There are fungi that negatively invade their hosts, but the benefits outweigh the negative. They form mutualistic and symbiotic relationships with plants to help increase surface area for absorption of nutrients. This helps plants survive even in tough terrain and poor weather conditions. Overall, people are unaware of how important fungi play a role in our ecosystem. Many times we become aware only when there are adverse symptoms or effects, but they are vital organisms. They are present everywhere and help humans and other organisms more than we expect.
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