Mycology Definition: Allying with Fungi for Human Betterment

Mycology Definition: Allying with Fungi for Human Betterment

The mycology definition has become broader over the years as more information and uses for mushrooms become available 

What do you think of as a solid mycology definition? Mycology is rapidly evolving, while intersecting with other topics. Historically mycology has focused on fungal pathogens found in the agricultural world. Now we can consider an array of other aspects, from the classification and evolution of fungal species, to the use of magic mushrooms, to using mushroom mycelium for packaging material. Clearly,  the field of mycology is diverse. Mycology is turning into a new science as cultivation and the use of fungi to support humans is increasing. What is mycology in the radical sense? I would define it as the study of fungi or mushrooms and their impact on people and the planet. This mycology definition also considers methods of allying with fungi to improve ourselves, the planet, and our relationships.

Mycology definition: Where we are and where are are going

Fungi can account for over 20% of total crop loss throughout the world. Many of the mycology programs in universities focus on identifying fungi or reducing fungal pathogens on agricultural crops. Mycology is shifting and hopefully will continue to shift towards the positive aspects of mushrooms. Subjects like mycoremediation, various methods of mushroom cultivation, mushroom supplements and extracts, and mycelium being used to make packaging products, furniture, and burial material are the present and future of positive mycology. If you are interested in mycology, a good place to start is learning about mycelium.

Mycology definition: Mycelium, fungi, and mushrooms

Most perceive a fungus only as a mushroom. This is a misconception that has dictated the importance of fungi in our society. Fungi are a diverse kingdom with many species that may never produce a mushroom. Many see a mushroom and believe that this is the entirety of a fungus. However, the mushroom is only a part, or an organ, for certain species, with the intent of producing spores for reproduction. If the mushroom is the fruiting body then what is the rest of the fungus? This begs the question; what collects the nutrients for the fruiting body to fruit? This is where the importance of understanding what mycelium is comes into effect. Fungi are heterotrophs so they must obtain energy from their surroundings, like humans. They do this through mycelium, the vegetative body for fungi. Some fungi produce mushrooms but most species of fungi never produce a mushroom, they exclusively live as mycelium. When compared to a plant, mycelium is the branches, leaves and root system and the mushroom is the fruit. When a spore lands on an appropriate substrate under suitable conditions, that spore will germinate. The germination is the beginning of the mycelium from a single meristematic cell. Mycelium consists of the growing ‘stem’ cells of the fungus.  Mycelium grows by releasing enzymes from the hyphal tips to digest the surrounding food and then absorbs the nutrients. The cells will eventually branch and continue to branch as it grows to build a vast, filamentous mycelial network.

Defining Mycology and the enzymatic language

The mushroom begins in the mycelial network. However, the enzymes are incredibly important in the evolution from mycelial mass to mushroom. Two amazing feats from these enzymes include enzymatic language and healthful properties. These enzymes, depending on what comes back to the mycelium, will guide how the mycelium grows. If the mycelium is receiving compounds that it really likes and helps it grow quicker, then the enzymes will take note and work on proliferating more in that area. If the enzymatic language signals an attack, then the mycelium will secrete defense compounds. These defense enzymes can be very potent antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal compounds. Humans share a lot similar pathogens as fungi, so these antibiotic, antiviral compounds have been used for many pharmaceuticals. Since mycelium secretes these powerful enzymes with healthful properties that fight off harmful pathogens, they are great allies for humans. Mushrooms come from this powerful, alive mycelial network, typically hidden from our eyes. Once the conditions are appropriate, the fruiting body of the mushroom will appear.

Turning our mycology definition into actionable growth

We want people to learn about mushrooms as much as possible and that includes the ability to grow mushrooms at home or commercially. With interest in mushrooms consistently growing, there is a need for more small-scale mushroom growers. These mushrooms growers might only grow for their own consumption, or to supply mushrooms to their friends and family. Small-scale commercial mushroom farmers might be growing for local restaurants, farmers’ markets, and direct-to-customers. You can learn much more about mushrooms by taking our online mushroom courses. We have one course on commercial mushroom farming, one course on mushroom growing for home cultivation, and one course on medicinal mushrooms (which includes a growing component). Head over to those pages now to learn more about each of these online mycology courses. Some courses are offered live, but all courses can be watched in their recorded form at your leisure.
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