Last updated
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.


Although mycology was historically considered a branch of botany, the 1969 discovery [1] of fungi's close evolutionary relationship to animals resulted in the study's reclassification as an independent field. [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 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 are traditionally attributed to M.J. Berkeley in 1836. [26] However, mycologist appeared in writings by English botanist Robert Kaye Greville as early as 1823 in reference to Schweinitz. [27]

Mycology and drug discovery

For centuries, certain mushrooms have been documented as a folk medicine in China, Japan, and Russia. [28] 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. [29]

Mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. [30] Penicillin, ciclosporin, griseofulvin, cephalosporin and psilocybin are examples of drugs that have been isolated from molds or other fungi. [31] [32]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Secotioid</span> Type of fungi

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edible mushroom</span> Fleshy and edible fruit bodies of many 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 native to Europe, but has been accidentally introduced to other countries along with pine trees, with which the fungus is symbiotic.

<i>Leucocoprinus birnbaumii</i> Species of fungus

Leucocoprinus birnbaumii is a species of gilled mushroom in the family Agaricaceae. It is common in the tropics and subtropics. However, in temperate regions, it frequently occurs in greenhouses and flowerpots, hence its common names of flowerpot parasol and plantpot dapperling. It is considered to be toxic if consumed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pier Andrea Saccardo</span> Italian botanist and mycologist (1845–1920)

Pier Andrea Saccardo was an Italian botanist and mycologist.

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Arora</span> American mycologist

David Arora is an American mycologist, naturalist, and writer. He is the author of two popular books on mushroom identification, Mushrooms Demystified and All That the Rain Promises and More....

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Horton Peck</span> American mycologist (1833–1917)

Charles Horton Peck was an American mycologist of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was the New York State Botanist from 1867 to 1915, a period in which he described over 2,700 species of North American fungi.

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.

<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> Species of fungus

Xerocomus subtomentosus, commonly known as suede bolete, brown and yellow bolete , 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geoffrey Clough Ainsworth</span> Mycologist, historian (1905-1998)

Geoffrey Clough Ainsworth was a British mycologist and scientific historian. He was the older brother of Ruth Ainsworth.

<i>Cortinarius violaceus</i> Species of fungus in the family Cortinariaceae native to the Northern Hemisphere

Cortinarius violaceus, commonly known as the violet webcap or violet cort, is a fungus in the webcap genus Cortinarius native across the Northern Hemisphere. The fruit bodies are dark purple mushrooms with caps up to 15 cm (6 in) across, sporting gills underneath. The stalk measures 6 to 12 centimetres by 1 to 2 cm, sometimes with a thicker base. The dark flesh has a smell reminiscent of cedar wood. Forming symbiotic (ectomycorrhizal) relationships with the roots of various plant species, C. violaceus is found predominantly in conifer forests in North America and deciduous forests in Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Worthington George Smith</span> British botanist (1835–1917)

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elsie Maud Wakefield</span> British mycologist

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Leigh Williamson Eyre</span> British mycologist (1841–1914)

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

Margit Babos was a Hungarian mycologist born on 28 October 1931 in Budapest. She became one of the most widely recognized mycologists in the second half of the 20th century in Eastern Europe, with contributions to mycological research, fungal taxonomy and recording the mycoflora of Hungary.

<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.

Fungi – "Fungi" is plural for "fungus". A fungus is any member of the group of eukaryotic organisms that includes unicellular microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as multicellular fungi that produce familiar fruiting forms known as mushrooms. Biologists classify these organisms as a kingdom, Fungi, the second highest taxonomic rank of living organism beneath the Eukaryota domain; other kingdoms include plants, animals, protists, and bacteria. One difference that places fungi in a different kingdom is that their cell walls contain chitin, unlike the cell walls of plants, bacteria and some protists. Similar to animals, fungi are heterotrophs, that is, they acquire their food by absorbing dissolved molecules, typically by secreting digestive enzymes into their environment. Growth is their means of mobility, except for spores, which may travel through air or water. Fungi function as the principal decomposers in ecological systems.


  1. Whittaker RH (10 January 1969). "New concepts of kingdoms of organisms: evolutionary relations are better represented by new classifications than by the traditional two kingdoms". Science/AAAS. 163 (3863): 150–160. doi:10.1126/science.163.3863.150. PMID   5762760.
  2. Woese CR, Kandler O, Wheelis ML (June 1990). "Towards a natural system of organisms: proposal for the domains Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 87 (12): 4576–4579. Bibcode:1990PNAS...87.4576W. doi: 10.1073/pnas.87.12.4576 . PMC   54159 . PMID   2112744.
  3. Casadevall A, Kontoyiannis DP, Robert V (July 2019). "On the Emergence of Candida auris: Climate Change, Azoles, Swamps, and Birds". mBio. 10 (4): 1786–1787. doi:10.3201/eid2509.ac2509. PMC   6711238 . PMID   31337723.
  4. Wilson BJ (1971). Ciegler A, Kadis S, Ajl SJ (eds.). Microbial Toxins, Vol. VI Fungal Toxins. New York: Academic Press. p. 251.
  5. Brian PW (1951). "Antibiotics produced by fungi". The Botanical Review. 17 (6): 357–430. doi:10.1007/BF02879038. ISSN   0006-8101. S2CID   7772971.
  6. E.g. Joffe AZ, Yagen B (1978). "Intoxication produced by toxic fungi Fusarium poae and F. sporotrichioides on chicks". Toxicon. 16 (3): 263–273. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(78)90087-9. PMID   653754.
  7. De Lucca AJ (March 2007). "Harmful fungi in both agriculture and medicine". Revista Iberoamericana de Micologia. 24 (1): 3–13. PMID   17592884.
  8. Ruano-Rosa D, Prieto P, Rincón AM, Gómez-Rodríguez MV, Valderrama R, Barroso JB, Mercado-Blanco J (2015-11-07). "Fate of Trichoderma harzianum in the olive rhizosphere: time course of the root colonization process and interaction with the fungal pathogen Verticillium dahliae" (PDF). BioControl. 61 (3): 269–282. doi:10.1007/s10526-015-9706-z. hdl: 10261/157852 . ISSN   1386-6141. S2CID   12336349.
  9. Anon (1868). "A foray among the funguses". Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club. Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club. 1868: 184–192.
  10. San-Blas G, Calderone RA, eds. (2008). Pathogenic Fungi. Caister Academic Press. ISBN   978-1-904455-32-5.
  11. Pliny the Elder. "Book 19, Chapter 11" [Natural History]. Retrieved February 28, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. Henry A (1861). A Glossary of Scientific Terms for general use. p. 131.
  13. De stirpium maxime earum quae in Germania nostra nascuntur, usitatis nomenclaturis. Strasbourg. In Ainsworth 1976, p. 13 quoting Buller AH (1915). "Micheli and the discovery of reproduction in fungi". Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada. 3. 9: 1–25.
  14. Ainsworth 1976, p. 13.
  15. Ainsworth 1976, p. 4.
  16. "the Polyporus P. Micheli page". Index Fungorum. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  17. "the Tuber P. Micheli page". Index Fungorum. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  18. Kibby G (2017). Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain & Europe. Great Britain: Geoffrey Kibby. pp. xiv–xv. ISBN   9780957209428.
  19. "the Boletus L. page". Index Fungorum. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  20. "the Agaricus L. page". Index Fungorum. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  21. Kiger RW. "Index to Binomials Cited in the First Edition of Linnaeus' Species Plantarum". Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation. Archived from the original on 2018-07-12. Retrieved 2018-07-12. Searching on the names Agaricus or Boletus, for instance, finds many mushroom species described by Linnaeus under those genera.
  22. Linnaeus C (1753). Species Plantarum: exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas (in Latin) (1st ed.). Stockholm: Impensis Laurentii Salvii. The entries for fungi start with Agaricus on page 1171 of volume 2.
  23. 1 2 Læssøe H, Petersen J (2019). Fungi of Temperate Europe. Princeton University Press. p. 500. ISBN   9780691180373. Page 8 defines the word "agaric" and page 500 gives the modern definition of Agaricus.
  24. "the Agaricus deliciosus L. page". Species Fungorum. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  25. "the Agaricus campestris L. page". Species Fungorum. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  26. Ainsworth 1976, p. 2.
  27. Greville, Robert Kaye (April 1823). "Observations on a New Genus of Plants, belonging to the Natural Order Gastromyci". The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. 8 (16): 257.
  28. Smith JE, Rowan NJ, Sullivan R (May 2002). "Medicinal Mushrooms: Their therapeutic properties and current medical usage with special emphasis on cancer treatments". Cancer Research UK. p. 5. Archived from the original on 2009-08-31.
  29. Shashkina MI, Shashkin PN, Sergeev AV (October 2006). "[Chemical and medicobiological properties of Chaga (review)]". Farmatsevtychnyĭ Zhurnal. 40 (10): 560–568. doi:10.1007/s11094-006-0194-4. S2CID   22139534.
  30. Cardwell G, Bornman JF, James AP, Black LJ (October 2018). "A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D". Nutrients. 10 (10): 1498. doi: 10.3390/nu10101498 . PMC   6213178 . PMID   30322118.
  31. "Fungal Bioactive Metabolites of Pharmacological Relevance | Frontiers Research Topic". Retrieved 2021-02-01.
  32. "Aspergillus alliaceus - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics". Retrieved 2021-02-01.

Cited literature