Biology » Fungi » Characteristics of Fungi

Summarizing Characteristics of Fungi


Fungi are eukaryotic organisms that appeared on land more than 450 million years ago. They are heterotrophs and contain neither photosynthetic pigments such as chlorophyll, nor organelles such as chloroplasts. Because fungi feed on decaying and dead matter, they are saprobes. Fungi are important decomposers that release essential elements into the environment. External enzymes digest nutrients that are absorbed by the body of the fungus, which is called a thallus. A thick cell wall made of chitin surrounds the cell. Fungi can be unicellular as yeasts, or develop a network of filaments called a mycelium, which is often described as mold. Most species multiply by asexual and sexual reproductive cycles and display an alternation of generations. Another group of fungi do not have a sexual cycle. Sexual reproduction involves plasmogamy (the fusion of the cytoplasm), followed by karyogamy (the fusion of nuclei). Meiosis regenerates haploid individuals, resulting in haploid spores.


coenocytic hypha

single hypha that lacks septa and contains many nuclei

faculative anaerobes

organisms that can perform both aerobic and anaerobic respiration and can survive in oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor environment


modified hyphae on many parasitic fungi that penetrate the tissues of their hosts, release digestive enzymes, and/or absorb nutrients from the host


describes when only one mating type is present in an individual mycelium


describes when both mating types are present in mycelium


fungal filament composed of one or more cells


fusion of nuclei


mass of fungal hyphae


scientific study of fungi

obligate aerobes

organisms, such as humans, that must perform aerobic respiration to survive

obligate anaerobes

organisms that only perform anaerobic respiration and often cannot survive in the presence of oxygen


fusion of cytoplasm


organism that derives nutrients from decaying organic matter; also saprophyte


cell wall division between hyphae


reproductive sac that contains spores


vegetative body of a fungus


general term used to describe unicellular fungi

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