The word mycology has a Greek origin, ‘mukes’. This can be translated to mean fungus. Therefore, mycology is a branch of biology. The branch deals with the scientific study of fungi. The study involves noting how fungi relate to each other and their relationship to other organisms. Usually, people known as mycologists conduct these studies. Mycologists are people that specialize in studying fungi.
Initially, mycology was a part of botany. However, this was corrected when it became clear that fungi had a closer relationship to animals than to plants. Mycology gives more information about the genetic and biochemical characteristics of fungi. It focuses on the classification of fungi and shows ways in which humans can benefit from them.
Most microorganisms that harm plants belong to the fungi group. This aspect brings mycology to a closer relationship to phytopathology. Phytopathology involves the study of diseases that affect plants.
Branches of mycology
Mycology, as a branch of biology, is a vast field. It is subdivided into various sub-branches. This subdivision aims to help mycologists develop their expertise in a specific field in mycology. There are several branches, such as lichenology, ethnomycology, medical mycology, forensic mycology, et cetera. Of these branches, one branch is of particular importance to humans; medical mycology.
Medical mycology is a branch that deals with the study of diseases in humans caused by fungi, known as fungal infections. Common parts of the body in which fungal infections occur include the skin, hair, and nails. Generally, fungal infections do not lead to complications in human health. They also occur less frequently compared to bacterial infections. However, people with weak immunity are more susceptible to getting complications of fungal infections. They also acquire fungal infections more than healthy people. People with a weak immune system include those with chronic diseases like cancer or HIV/AIDs.
Why study fungi?
Other than being infectious, fungi can be of importance to humans. The study of fungi is important because fungi may have useful elements for human use. Only certain species of fungi are harmful. Some species are safe for human use, whether in cooking or the manufacture of drugs.
Fungi can be beneficial to the health of a person. Fungi, such as mushrooms, are considered as food with nutritious value. For thousands of years, edible fungi have been a source of food for many people. Currently, hundreds of species of mushrooms are considered edible.
Edible mushrooms are a great source of all types of vitamin B, proteins, and fiber. They also have vitamin D in high quantities when they get adequate exposure to the sun. Vitamins are useful in strengthening the immune system and preventing diseases. For example, vitamin D strengthens bones and helps them grow, which can prevent osteoporosis. This is a condition in which bones easily fracture due to weakness.
However, some mushrooms are not edible and can lead to health problems when ingested. Mushrooms that are used as food can either be wild or cultivated. Hence, it is crucial to consult an expert on edible species of mushrooms when collecting wild mushrooms for food.
Mushrooms have medicinal benefits. There are plenty of drugs that have been developed from mushrooms. Antibiotics in the classes of penicillin and cephalosporins and antifungal drugs such as griseofulvin and micafungin are some examples of drugs developed from fungi. Antibiotics like penicillins have revolutionized the medical field due to their effectiveness in treating common conditions like community-acquired pneumonia.
Additionally, the study of fungi will enable mycologists to pinpoint fungi that are poisonous or harmful to the human body. As such, effective measures can be put in place to ensure that people are aware of such fungi or limit their use to prevent fatalities. Famous poisonous fungi are those that belong to the Amanita genus. These fungi are known to cause hallucinations and even death when certain parts of the fungi are ingested at large amounts.