Mycology (from the Greek μύκης, mukēs, meaning "fungus") is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi, including their genetic and biochemical properties, their taxonomy and their use to humans as a source for tinder, medicinals (e.g., penicillin), food (e.g., beer, wine, cheese, edible mushrooms) and entheogens, as well as their dangers, such as poisoning or infection.
From mycology arose the field of phytopathology, the study of plant diseases, and the two disciplines remain closely related because the vast majority of plant pathogens are fungi. A biologist who studies mycology is called a mycologist.
Historically, mycology was a branch of botany (fungi are evolutionarily more closely related to animals than to plants but this was not recognized until a few decades ago). Pioneer mycologists included Elias Magnus Fries, Christian Hendrik Persoon, Anton de Bary and Lewis David von Schweinitz.
Today the most comprehensively studied and understood fungi are yeasts and eukaryotic model organisms Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe.
Many fungi produce toxins, antibiotics and other secondary metabolites. For example the cosmopolitan (worldwide) genus Fusarium and their toxins associated with fatal outbreaks of alimentary toxic aleukia in humans were extensively studied by Abraham Joffe.
Fungi are fundamental for life on earth in their roles as symbionts, e.g. in the form of mycorrhizae, insect symbionts and lichens, potency in breaking down complex organic biomolecules such as lignin, the more durable component of wood, and by playing a role in xenobiotics, a critical step in the global carbon cycle.
Fungi and other organisms traditionally recognized as fungi, such as oomycetes and myxomycetes (slime molds), often are economically and socially important as some cause diseases of animals (such as histoplasmosis) as well as plants (such as Dutch elm disease and Rice blast).
Full article ▸