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Mushrooms are considered a kind of fungal reproductive organ. Mycena leaiana var. australis.jpg
Mushrooms are considered a kind of fungal reproductive organ.

Mycology is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi, including their genetic and biochemical properties, their taxonomy and their use to humans, including as a source for tinder, traditional medicine, food, and entheogens, as well as their dangers, such as toxicity or infection.


A biologist specializing in mycology is called a mycologist.

Mycology branches into 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.


Historically, mycology was a branch of botany because, although fungi are evolutionarily more closely related to animals than to plants, [1] this was not recognized until a few decades ago. [2] Pioneer mycologists included Elias Magnus Fries, Christian Hendrik Persoon, Anton de Bary, Elizabeth Eaton Morse, and Lewis David von Schweinitz. Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit , also made significant contributions to the field. [3]

Pier Andrea Saccardo developed a system for classifying the imperfect fungi by spore color and form, which became the primary system used before classification by DNA analysis. He is most famous for his Sylloge, which was a comprehensive list of all of the names that had been used for mushrooms.  Sylloge is still the only work of this kind that was both comprehensive for the botanical kingdom Fungi and reasonably modern.[ citation needed ]

Many fungi produce toxins, [4] antibiotics, [5] 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. [6]

Fungi are fundamental for life on earth in their roles as symbionts, e.g. in the form of mycorrhizae, insect symbionts, and lichens. Many fungi are able to break down complex organic biomolecules such as lignin, the more durable component of wood, and pollutants such as xenobiotics, petroleum, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. By decomposing these molecules, fungi play a critical role 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 (including humans) and of plants. [7]

Apart from pathogenic fungi, many fungal species are very important in controlling the plant diseases caused by different pathogens. For example, species of the filamentous fungal genus Trichoderma are considered one of the most important biological control agents as an alternative to chemical-based products for effective crop diseases management. [8]

Field meetings to find interesting species of fungi are known as 'forays', after the first such meeting organized by the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club in 1868 and entitled "A foray among the funguses[ sic ]". [9]

Some fungi can cause disease in humans and other animals - The study of pathogenic fungi that infect animals is referred to as medical mycology. [10]


It is believed that humans started collecting mushrooms as food in prehistoric times. Mushrooms were first written about in the works of Euripides (480-406 BC). The Greek philosopher Theophrastos of Eresos (371-288 BC) was perhaps the first to try to systematically classify plants; mushrooms were considered to be plants missing certain organs. It was later Pliny the Elder (2379 AD), who wrote about truffles in his encyclopedia Naturalis historia . [11] The word mycology comes from the Ancient Greek: μύκης (mukēs), meaning "fungus" and the suffix -λογία (-logia), meaning "study". [12]

Fungi and truffles are neither herbs, nor roots, nor flowers, nor seeds, but merely the superfluous moisture or earth, of trees, or rotten wood, and of other rotting things. This is plain from the fact that all fungi and truffles, especially those that are used for eating, grow most commonly in thundery and wet weather.

Jerome Bock (Hieronymus Tragus), 1552 [13]

The Middle Ages saw little advancement in the body of knowledge about fungi. However, the invention of the printing press allowed authors to dispel superstitions and misconceptions about the fungi that had been perpetuated by the classical authors. [14]

Group photograph taken at a meeting of the British Mycological Society in 1913 British Mycological Society 1913 a.jpg
Group photograph taken at a meeting of the British Mycological Society in 1913

The start of the modern age of mycology begins with Pier Antonio Micheli's 1737 publication of Nova plantarum genera. [15] Published in Florence, this seminal work laid the foundations for the systematic classification of grasses, mosses and fungi. He originated the still current genus names Polyporus [16] and Tuber, [17] both dated 1729 (though the descriptions were later amended as invalid by modern rules).

The founding nomenclaturist Carl Linnaeus included fungi in his binomial naming system in 1753, where each type of organism has a two-word name consisting of a genus and species (whereas up to then organisms were often designated with Latin phrases containing many words). [18] He originated the scientific names of numerous well-known mushroom taxa, such as Boletus [19] and Agaricus , [20] which are still in use today. During this period, fungi were still considered to belong to the plant kingdom, so they were categorized in his Species Plantarum . Linnaeus' fungal taxa were not nearly as comprehensive as his plant taxa, however, grouping together all gilled mushrooms with a stem in genus Agaricus. [21] [22] Thousands of gilled species exist, which were later divided into dozens of diverse genera; in its modern usage, Agaricus only refers to mushrooms closely related to the common shop mushroom, Agaricus bisporus . [23] For example, Linnaeus gave the name Agaricus deliciosus to the saffron milk-cap, but its current name is Lactarius deliciosus . [24] On the other hand, the field mushroom Agaricus campestris has kept the same name ever since Linnaeus's publication. [25] The English word "agaric" is still used for any gilled mushroom, which corresponds to Linnaeus's use of the word. [23]

The term mycology and the complementary term mycologist were first used in 1836 by M.J. Berkeley. [26]

Mycology and drug discovery

For centuries, certain mushrooms have been documented as a folk medicine in China, Japan, and Russia. [27] Although the use of mushrooms in folk medicine is centered largely on the Asian continent, people in other parts of the world like the Middle East, Poland, and Belarus have been documented using mushrooms for medicinal purposes. [28]

Mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. [29] Penicillin, ciclosporin, griseofulvin, cephalosporin and psilocybin are examples of drugs that have been isolated from molds or other fungi. [30] [31]

See also

Related Research Articles


Secotioid fungi are an intermediate growth form between mushroom-like hymenomycetes and closed bag-shaped gasteromycetes, where an evolutionary process of gasteromycetation has started but not run to completion. Secotioid fungi may or may not have opening caps, but in any case they often lack the vertical geotropic orientation of the hymenophore needed to allow the spores to be dispersed by wind, and the basidiospores are not forcibly discharged or otherwise prevented from being dispersed —note—some mycologists do not consider a species to be secotioid unless it has lost ballistospory.

Edible mushroom Fleshy and edible fruit bodies of several species of macrofungi

Edible mushrooms are the fleshy and edible fruit bodies of several species of macrofungi. They can appear either below ground (hypogeous) or above ground (epigeous) where they may be picked by hand. Edibility may be defined by criteria that include absence of poisonous effects on humans and desirable taste and aroma. Edible mushrooms are consumed for their nutritional and culinary value. Mushrooms, especially dried shiitake, are sources of umami flavor.

<i>Lactarius deliciosus</i> Species of fungus

Lactarius deliciosus, commonly known as the saffron milk cap and red pine mushroom, is one of the best known members of the large milk-cap genus Lactarius in the order Russulales. It is found in Europe and has been accidentally introduced to other countries under conifers and can be found growing in pine plantations. A fresco in the Roman town of Herculaneum appears to depict Lactarius deliciosus and is one of the earliest pieces of art to illustrate a fungus.

<i>Suillus luteus</i> Species of edible fungus in the family Suillaceae native to Eurasia

Suillus luteus is a bolete fungus, and the type species of the genus Suillus. A common fungus native to Eurasia, from the British Isles to Korea, it has been introduced widely elsewhere, including North and South America, southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Commonly referred to as slippery jack or sticky bun in English-speaking countries, its names refer to the brown cap, which is characteristically slimy in wet conditions. The fungus, initially described as Boletus luteus by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, is now classified in a different family as well as genus. Suillus luteus is edible, though not as highly regarded as other bolete mushrooms, and is commonly prepared and eaten in soups, stews or fried dishes. The slime coating, however, may cause indigestion if not removed before eating.

<i>Paxillus involutus</i> Species of fungus

Paxillus involutus, commonly known as the brown roll-rim, common roll-rim is a basidiomycete fungus that is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. It has been inadvertently introduced to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America, probably transported in soil with European trees. Various shades of brown in colour, the fruit body grows up to 6 cm high and has a funnel-shaped cap up to 12 cm wide with a distinctive inrolled rim and decurrent gills that may be pore-like close to the stipe. Although it has gills, it is more closely related to the pored boletes than to typical gilled mushrooms. It was first described by Pierre Bulliard in 1785, and was given its current binomial name by Elias Magnus Fries in 1838. Genetic testing suggests that Paxillus involutus may be a species complex rather than a single species.

Fungi of Australia

The Fungi of Australia form an enormous and phenomenally diverse group, a huge range of freshwater, marine and terrestrial habitats with many ecological roles, for example as saprobes, parasites and mutualistic symbionts of algae, animals and plants, and as agents of biodeterioration. Where plants produce, and animals consume, the fungi recycle, and as such they ensure the sustainability of ecosystems.

<i>Agaricus campestris</i> Species of fungus

Agaricus campestris is a widely eaten gilled mushroom closely related to the cultivated button mushroom Agaricus bisporus. It is commonly known as the field mushroom or, in North America, meadow mushroom.

Christopher Edmund Broome was a British mycologist. The standard author abbreviation Broome is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

The International Mycological Institute was a non-profit organisation, based in England, that undertook research and disseminated information on fungi, particularly plant pathogenic species causing crop diseases. It was established as the Imperial Bureau of Mycology at Kew in 1920 and amalgamated with CAB International in 1998.

<i>Suillellus luridus</i> Species of edible fungus of the bolete family, found in Asia, Europe, and eastern North America

Suillellus luridus, commonly known as the lurid bolete, is a fungus of the family Boletaceae, found in calcareous broadleaved woodlands in Europe. Fruit bodies appear in summer and autumn and may be locally abundant. It is a firm bolete with an olive-brown cap up to 20 cm (8 in) in diameter, with small orange or red pores on the underside. The stout ochre stem reaches 8–14 cm (3–6 in) high and 1–3 cm (0.4–1.2 in) wide, and is patterned with a red network. Like several other red-pored boletes, it stains blue when bruised or cut.

<i>Xerocomus subtomentosus</i>

Xerocomus subtomentosus, commonly known as suede bolete, brown and yellow bolet, boring brown bolete or yellow-cracked bolete, is a species of bolete fungus in the family Boletaceae. The fungus was initially described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and known for many years as Boletus subtomentosus. It is edible, though not as highly regarded as other bolete mushrooms.

<i>Clathrus ruber</i> Species of fungus in the stinkhorn family

Clathrus ruber is a species of fungus in the family Phallaceae, and the type species of the genus Clathrus. It is commonly known as the latticed stinkhorn, the basket stinkhorn, or the red cage, alluding to the striking fruit bodies that are shaped somewhat like a round or oval hollow sphere with interlaced or latticed branches. The fungus is saprobic, feeding off decaying woody plant material, and is often found alone or in groups in leaf litter on garden soil, grassy places, or on woodchip garden mulches. Although considered primarily a European species, C. ruber has been introduced to other areas, and now has a wide distribution that includes all continents except Antarctica. The species was illustrated in the scientific literature during the 16th century, but was not officially described until 1729.

Worthington George Smith British botanist (1835–1917)

Worthington George Smith was an English cartoonist and illustrator, archaeologist, plant pathologist, and mycologist.

George Edward Massee British botanist (1850–1917)

George Edward Massee was an English mycologist, plant pathologist, and botanist.

Elsie Maud Wakefield British mycologist

Elsie Maud Wakefield, OBE was an English mycologist and plant pathologist.

Derek Agutter Reid was an English mycologist.

William Leigh Williamson Eyre British mycologist (1841–1914)

Reverend William Leigh Williamson Eyre was an English mycologist and naturalist.

Sanctioned name

In mycology, a sanctioned name is a name that was adopted in certain works of Christiaan Hendrik Persoon or Elias Magnus Fries, which are considered major points in fungal taxonomy.

<i>Psathyrella spadicea</i>

Psathyrella spadicea or Homophron spadiceum, commonly known as the chestnut brittlestem, is a species of agaric fungus in the family Psathyrellaceae. The fungus was originally described by German mycologist Jacob Christian Schäffer in 1783 as Agaricus spadiceus. Rolf Singer transferred it to the genus Psathyrella in 1951, in which it was classified in the section Spadiceae. In 2015 Örstadius & Larsson recreated the genus Homophron for a group of psathyrelloid mushrooms with no veil and with light-coloured spores, and P. spadicea was moved to the new genus.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fungi:


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Cited literature