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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Economic Importance of Fungi

Posted by Shakil Shaukat On Thursday, December 20, 2012

Economic importance includes useful as well as harmful aspects of the fungi. The graph represents outline of the economic importance of the fungi.
Outline of the Economic Importance of Fungi

Advantages of Fungi

1. Primary agents of Decay

Biomass production in forest is controlled by wood rotting fungi. If fungi (and bacteria) were not present, there would be heaps of dead organic matter on face of Earth. Fungi are able to digest cellulose and lignin (major components of plant cell walls) to simpler organic matter. For example, Ganoderma and Armillaria.

2. Medicinal Purposes

Fungi are important source of antibiotics (= against bacteria). For example, Penicillin is extracted from Penicillium chrysogenum. Cephaloporins are antibiotics extracted from Cephalosporium acremonium. Ganoderma lucidum and Fomitopsis officinalis are used in herbal medicines since ancient times.

3. Used as Food

Many mushrooms have been grown since ancient times to use as food. These can be easily grown on waste materials like, manure, wheat and rice straw, tobacco stems and sawdust. For example, Agaricus brunnescens is commonly called meadow mushroom. It is a rich source of nutrition compared to all vegetables except spinach and soybeans. Tricholoma magnivelare is called pine mushroom. Proteins called Mycoproteins are also harvested from some fungi and used in food industry.

4. Baking and Brewing Industries

Both these industries depend largely upon Saccharoymyces cerevisiae. Saccharoymyces cerevisiae converts glucose to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. In making of dessert wines, grapes are left in the field to be infected with Botrytis cinerea (the noble rot) which increases the sweetness of grapes.

5. Mutualistic Associations

a) Mycorrhizae are the mutualistic association of fungi with the roots of higher plants. This association increases the ability of the plants to absorb some nutrients and minerals which cannot be absorbed by plant roots.
b) Lichens are the association of fungi with algae. This association is so useful in colonizing the bare rock surfaces where there would be no life possible otherwise.
c) Mutualistic associations of wood rotting fungi with arthropods. The insect cultivate the enzymes secreted by fungi (cellulase etc.) and the insects ensure dispersal of fungi.

6. Biological control of Insects and Arthropods

Insects and arthropods are sometimes very disastrous for crops and human populations. In this regard, parasitic fungi of these insects can be used for biological control of these insects. There are species of fungi that attack specific cicadas, flies, beetles, mosquitoes, wasps, mites, spiders and even honeybees.

Disadvantages of Fungi

1. Decay of Wooden Material

Fungi not only decay dead organic mass in the forests but they also decay other wooden materials such as wooden poles, furniture and wooden ships. Fungi are also responsible for rots and decay of fresh food stuff.

2. Diseases in Humans

Aspergillosis is very common disease due to Aspergillus sp.  Spores or Aspergillus are air-borne and cause this disease of lungs. Similarly, athletes’ foot, meningitis and allergic responses due to inhalation of fungal spores in air are also fungal borne disease. Dandruff in hair is also due to fungi.

3. Mycotoxins

Fungi not only decay and rot the food material, grains and standing crops. They also secrete enzymes called Mycotoxins (Myco = Fungi). These mycotoxins are harmful for human health and if their level exceeds certain limits (=threshold), then consumption of such food stuff can even lead to disease and death. Exports of rice are affected by these one of these mycotoxins called Alfatoxins.

4. Plant Diseases

Plant Pathology is the discipline of science which is concerned with the study of disease in plants, its control and management. About 80% of plant diseases are caused by fungi. These include bitter examples of death and famine due to fungal disease. For example, Irish potato famine due to late blight of Potato (caused by Phythophthora infestans), Dutch elm disease, rust and smut disease of wheat and many more diseases of plants.

5. Animal Diseases

Fungi are also harmful to the animal and cattle which graze from the contaminated sources.

6. Spoilage

Fungi sometimes are parasitic to other fungi. For example, many fungi are pathogenic to edible mushrooms. Contamination of fermentation process of alcohols and bakery products can cause serious health issues for human which will consume that food material.