There are many uses of fungi in human life. These are also a type of microorganisms which cause a variety of diseases. But they are beneficial as they contribute to
- Medicinal production of antibiotics, vaccines, enzymes, vitamins, hormones, etc.
- As food stuff
- Environmental cleaning
- In agriculture as biofertilizers and also as biopesticides
- In rDNA technology
- Fermentation and other industrial applications
They are used for many purposes in human life.
Like bacteria, fungi are widely used by modern man for medicine, agriculture, food, etc.
Though they also cause of many external and internal diseases in man, still some of them are of immense benefit.
1. Production of medicines: Fungi are used to produce many drugs like
a) Antibiotics: Ex: Penicillin is the first antibiotic which was discovered by Alexander Flemming. It is a very potent antibiotic and still finds its use in modern medicine. Similarly, many other antibiotics like cephalosporins, tetracyclines, macrolide antibiotics are also isolated from fungi. These antibiotics changed the course of human medicine and man was able to control many epidemics worldwide successfully.
Most antibiotics are needed in large scale to combat infections from bacteria. Such large quantities are produced by microbial fermentation of specific fungus.
b) Alkaloids: Ergot is one of the alkaloids isolated from a fungus namely Claviceps purpura. This produces alkaloids like ergometrine, ergotoxine, ergotamine, etc. which are used to control migraine headaches.
c) Immune modulators: Cyclosporin is an immune-suppressant used in organ transplantation. If a person has received any of the organs like kidney, heart, etc., then their body immune system tries to destroy the foreign organ. Taking these immune suppressants prevent the immune attack on the transplanted organ in the body.
d) Enzymes: Few enzymes like lipase, protease, cellulase, glucoamylase are obtained from the fungus. These enzymes have many applications to man
2. As food material:
Some fungi like mushrooms are widely used as food. They are highly nutritious while some of them are toxic.
Examples: Agaricus campestris an edible mushroom is comercially cutlivated in france and USA.
On the other hand Agaricuc xanthodermis and Agaricuc silvicolaare poisonous mushrooms.
Besides the above, even cheese, fermented bean paste is made by use of fungus.
3. In Environment as Natural scavengers: Fungi are saprophytes, i.e., they eat the dead and decomposing matter. Thus we can see the fungus contaminates all the rotten foods. This fungus, therefore, eats the decaying material and clean the environment around just like the bacteria.
4. For agricultural purposes: Fungi are also used in agriculture. They are especially useful as
a) Bio-pesticides: Some fungi are used to control bacterial and other fungal infections in plants and crops. Use of chemical pesticides is harmful to humans and other animals. They also lead to soil, water and air pollution.
But the use of biopesticides eliminates these problems. The infectious bacteria are destroyed based on the competitive exclusion principle. This is called as biological control.
Some bacteria are also used as insecticides. They kill pests like beetles, caterpillars, etc.
b) Fertilizers: Fungi like mycorrhiza live in symbiotic relationship with plant roots. They help plants absorb nutrients and also enhance soil fertility by decomposing dead leaves and other organic matter.
They also prevent the development of root diseases and give sustainable nutrition to the whole plant.
c) Weed control: Weeds are the plants which can grow naturally in soil. But when they grow in agricultural land, they hinder the growth of the regular crop. This is because they compete with the crop for same nutrition and water resources from the same soil.
5. rDNA technology: rDNA technology is one where the desired product is obtained from a genetically modified organism like fungi. Fungi are used to produce recombinant DNA products used in medicine. Many yeasts-like fungi are used for the fermentation process. Penicillium chrysogenium is a filamentous fungus is a recombinant one used to produce penicillin antibiotic in large quantities.
6. Fermentation and other industrial applications:Rhizopus is a type of fungi which is used for different purposes. The examples include
a) Rhizopus oryzae is used to produce alcohol by the fermentation process.
b) Rhizopus stolonifer is used in production of fumaric acid.
c) Rhizopus sinensis is used for manufacture of lactic acid.