What Is Mycology? And Where You Fit In
Mycology impacts your life in ways you can’t imagine. Whether it’s the mushroom toppings you ordered with your pizza or that penicillin tablet you took for a bacterial infection, it’s all a product of mycology. But what is mycology – and why should you care?
Fungi are an expansive form of life that impact all living things. However, you’ll be surprised to learn that mycology is not a booming discipline, with most learning institutions not offering or supporting mycology programs.
The study of fungi has seemingly been long overshadowed by more “attractive” scientific quests. But with the increasing interest in mushrooms and more people becoming hobbyist mycologists, this is slowly changing. So, what is mycology, and what does this expansive field entail?
What Is Mycology, Exactly?
Mycology is essentially the biological study of all fungi. It is a vast field of biology concerned with studying fungi life, their genetic and biochemical properties, classification, and usefulness to humans as either food, medicine, or for psychoactive purposes.
Mycology also deals with the fungi’s impact on other life — such as links to plants and animals and their dangers, such as toxicity, infection, and disease. The fungi kingdom contains a wide range of eukaryotic organisms, including yeast and molds, to the more familiar mushrooms, lichens and mildews.
Origins Of Mycology
The word “mycology” is borrowed from the New Latin word Mycologia. The word comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘mukēs,’ meaning fungus, and the suffix ‘logia,’ which means study.
Mycology and the complementary term mycologist are traditionally attributed to a 1836 paper by M.J Berkeley, although the term mycologist has been found in writings from as early as 1823.
Fungi, particularly mushrooms, are not new to humans and have been used as food since prehistoric times. Back then, there wasn’t much knowledge about fungi; at some point, mushrooms were considered plants.
It wasn’t until the advent of modern biochemistry and DNA analysis that researchers realized how different they are. Unlike plants, their cell walls aren’t made of cellulose, and DNA analysis has revealed they are more closely related to animals than plants.
Scientists are still experiencing problems establishing mycology as a separate discipline, as most institutions include it as part of botany programs, even in Academia.
Importance Of Mycology
From medicine to food, we can guarantee that mycology has impacted your life in one way or another. In some cases, the impact may not have been positive, as some fungi can be toxic to humans and can cause infections or even diseases.
Mycology studies fungi, such as edible mushrooms, that can be used as food. Mushrooms are the third most popular pizza toppings in the U.S., according to a 2019 YouGov poll. While mushrooms may be the most popular fungi used as food, other fungi grow on cheese and dairy, adding texture and other benefits. For some cheeses, such as Camembert and Roquefort, molds are added intentionally.
Yeast is another type of fungi used for food. Yeast is mainly used in baking and brewing beer. Yeast is considered the “king of good fungi” as it has several uses in the body, including regulating the growth of bacteria in the gut.
Mycology has also led to the discovery of important medicines. The 1928 discovery of Penicillin molds’ antibacterial properties by Alexander Fleming changed the course of modern medicine and ushered in the golden age of antibiotics. These fungi-derived drugs are credited with the jump in human life expectancy between 1944 and 1972.
Other drugs derived from fungi include Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant used to prevent rejection after organ transplants, antibiotics streptomycin, and statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) such as lovastatin, among others.
Magic mushrooms, known for their psychedelic effects, are being researched for their health benefits, including managing mental illnesses and smoking cessation. Fungi are also essential as they are the main decomposing agents helping complete the ecosystem’s energy flow.
Mycology also studies the “bad” fungi that produce mycotoxins and cause infections.
Fungi threaten global food security by destroying up to 30% of all crop production through disease and spoilage. Mycotoxin-producing fungi add to the threat by endangering food safety. Mycology covers all those areas, learning more about the beneficial aspects of fungi and how to deal with problematic fungi.
What Is Medical Mycology?
Mycology is a broad field and can be divided into several branches, medical mycology being one of the most important. Medical mycology can be defined as the study of fungi organisms that cause disease and infections in humans.
Medical mycology is concerned with fungal infections typically observed on the skin, hair, and nails. Some of these infections may have profound health implications, especially in immunocompromised individuals.
Medical mycology is closely related to other divisions such as forensic mycology, mycotoxicology, which is the study of toxins produced by fungi, and phytopathology.
What Is Agar Mycology?
Agar mycology isn’t a division of fungi science. It is the practice of using agar-agar to grow fungi for observation in a lab, avoiding contamination. However, agar-agar is not restricted to lab work. Many enthusiasts are using agar as a medium to make cultures and germinate spores.
Agar-agar is a gelatin-like substance derived from red algae. It has no flavor, odor, or color, making it perfect as a cooking ingredient and a medium for mycology.
Current Trends In Mycology And Where You Come In
Fungi remain understudied. This may be from a lack of support and funding from institutions and the fact that fungi are challenging to study. However, the number of amateur mushroom hunters and hobbyist mycologists is growing.
If you’re interested in joining the world of mycology, now is the time! At PNW Spore, Co., we provide high-quality spores for mycologists – from well-known Cubensis varieties such as Albino Golden Teacher and Penis Envy to gourmet varieties including Blue Oyster and Black Morel, among others.
PNW Spore, Co. is your partner in all things mycology. Visit our online store to get started today!