The 16 types of mushrooms (and their characteristics) - medical - 2023



The diversity within the fungal kingdom, that formed by fungi, is enormous. Surely, we are facing the most diverse kingdom of living beings that exists. And it is that from the yeasts that allow us to obtain beer to the mushrooms that we use in stews, through the fungi that cause us athlete's feet or hallucinogenic species, the variety of morphologies, physiology and ecologies that they can adopt is immense. .

Fungi are living things that are somehow halfway between plants and animals. They share characteristics of both but, due to their peculiarities, they cannot be considered as either of them. It is for this reason that fungi make up, by themselves, one of the seven kingdoms of life.

Since its listing in 1963 as its own kingdom, we have discovered a total of 43,000 fungal species, although its total diversity is estimated at more than 600,000 species of fungi. And, given their incredible variety, it has been necessary to classify the fungi according to different parameters.

In today's article, then, in addition to understanding exactly what a fungus is, we will see how they are classified, analyzing the different types of fungal species based on cell constitution, morphology, ecology and relationship with being. human. Let's go there.

  • We recommend you read: "Fungi Kingdom: characteristics, anatomy and physiology"

What is a mushroom?

Fungi are eukaryotic organisms that can be both unicellular and multicellular that have, in fungal cells, the mainstay of their existence. These fungal cells are unique in nature, in the sense that they are different from animal, plant, bacterial cells, etc.

But what are its peculiarities? Fungal cells have a cell wall, a structure that covers their plasma membrane in order to give rigidity, allow the formation of complex tissues, regulate communication with the outside and give integrity to the cell.

This cell wall is similar to that of plant cells, which is why for a long time (until 1963) they were considered plants. But this collapsed when we discovered not only that this cell wall is made up of chitin (a carbohydrate present in both fungi and the skeleton of arthropod animals) and not cellulose (like plants), but that they are unable to perform photosynthesis.

No species of fungus can photosynthesize. In this sense, they feed through a metabolism "similar" to the animal, based on heterotrophy. That is, fungi break down organic matter for energy. Like us. What happens is that their "digestion" (understood as the process of breaking down complex molecules into simpler ones) is extracellular, while that of animals is intracellular.

The fact that feed by heterotrophy but with extracellular digestion, together with the fact that they reproduce by means of spores, that there are unicellular life forms and that some species can be pathogenic, they could not be considered animals either.

Therefore, it was clear that the fungi were neither animals nor plants, let alone bacteria. So they had to form their own domain. And today (since the last reformulation in 2015), the classification into kingdoms is as follows: animals, plants, fungi, protozoa (such as amoebas), chromists (such as algae), bacteria and archaea.

In summary, fungi are unicellular or multicellular eukaryotic organisms made up of fungal cells that appeared about 1,300 million years ago from the evolution of protozoa and that are heterotrophic (they never carry out photosynthesis), they have a cell wall of chitin, not have active mobility systems and that reproduce by producing and releasing spores. This is, in essence, a mushroom. But the diversity is so enormous that classifying them has been, from the beginning, a necessity.

  • We recommend reading: "Ascomycetes: characteristics, anatomy and physiology"

How are mushrooms classified?

While it is true that each and every one of the more than 600,000 fungal species that can inhabit the Earth share the common characteristics previously analyzed, the morphological, ecological and physiological diversity that fungi can adopt is immense.

Therefore, it has been necessary to classify fungi into different types according to specific parameters. After analyzing the specialized bibliography on this, we have seen that the parameters most frequently used to divide them are the following: depending on the number of cells, depending on their morphology, depending on their ecology and depending on their relationship with humans. We will analyze them one by one below.

1. According to its number of cells

The fungal is the only one of the kingdoms with both unicellular and multicellular species. That is, while all animals and all plants are multicellular and all protozoa, all chromists, all bacteria and all archaea are unicellular, we can find both types of fungi. Therefore, the first classification is the following.

1.1. Single-celled fungi

Unicellular fungi are those in which the fungal individual consists of a single cell. This cell is capable of developing all vital functions, so even though it can form colonies between various organisms, this cell maintains its individuality. They are obviously microscopic and we have, for example, yeasts. These have an average size of 10 microns, so they are larger than bacteria. Escherichia coli, the most famous bacterium, measures 2 micrometers.

1.2. Multicellular fungi

Multicellular fungi are fungal organisms formed by the union of millions of cells. These fungal cells specialize in tissuesTherefore, they do not carry out all the functions by themselves, but the life of the multicellular individual is possible thanks to the coordination of all the cells that make it up. Here we already have macroscopic fungi, such as mushrooms.

2. According to its morphology

Probably the most controversial parameter, since it is difficult to classify the enormous anatomical diversity of fungi into clearly differentiated groups. With this in mind, these are the main types of fungal organisms depending on their morphology.

2.1. Molds

Molds are a very diverse group of fungi that maintain the particularity of being multicellular individuals that grow into filaments on different surfaces. Its degree of morphological complexity is low, since there is no clear differentiation in tissues, but simply filaments formed by several joined fungal cells. Molds grow in hot and humid regions, developing on top of products from which they can extract organic matter, such as bread, fruits, vegetables, excrement, cheeses, walls ...

2.2. Yeasts

Yeasts are, again, a very diverse group of fungi that maintain the particularity of, at a morphological level, being unicellular. Therefore, yeasts are fungi that cannot grow by forming hyphae or filaments (like mold), but these fungal cells maintain their individuality, they do not grow in a colonial way. These yeasts also decompose organic matter through a fermentation process, which we take advantage of at an industrial level to produce, for example, beers and breads.

2.3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a very diverse group of basidiomycetes, a phylum of fungi with more than 25,000 species that make up what is traditionally known as a "mushroom." These mushrooms are macroscopic multicellular fungi that, unlike molds, have the ability to develop with clearly differentiated tissues (not just filaments), which makes them acquire very varied morphologies. From white truffles costing $ 5,000 per kg to hallucinogenic species, the diversity of mushrooms is enormous.

  • To know more: "The 30 types of mushrooms (edible, toxic and psychoactive)"

3. According to its ecology

The third parameter is made according to its ecology, that is, how it interacts with other organisms with which it shares a habitat and in what way it is able to obtain the energy and matter it needs to grow, develop and reproduce. These are the main types according to it.

3.1. Saprophytic fungi

Saprophytic fungi are all those that obtain organic matter (remember that they are all heterotrophs) from other decomposing organic matter. That is, they grow on organic matter such as wood or soil and obtain the energy and matter they need from its metabolic decomposition. Therefore, they do not interact with other living beings (at least, not directly), since they take advantage of what is already dead.

3.2. Symbiotic fungi

Symbiotic fungi are those that establish mutualistic relationships with other living beings. That is, they interact with other animals and plants so that, as a result of this relationship, both parties receive a benefit. An example is that of mycorrhizae, a symbiotic relationship between different species of fungi and plant roots that is present in 97% of plant species. The fungus makes it easier for the plant to obtain minerals and water and the plant, for its part, rewards it by giving it carbohydrates and vitamins.

  • To find out more: "What are mycorrhizae and what is their function?"

3.3. Parasitic fungi

Parasitic fungi are those that behave like animal or plant pathogens. These fungi establish relationships with other living beings, but far from seeking the benefit of both parties, the fungus harms the species it has parasitized to obtain a benefit, even if this implies health problems (and even death) of the infected organism .

  • If you want to know an incredible and real case of parasitic fungus: “Could zombies exist? Science gives us the answer "

4. According to its relationship with the human being

We come to the end of our path and, finally, we are going to see how fungi are classified based on how they relate to humans. Keep in mind that many species are not related to us in any way, but those that do can do so in the following way.

4.1. Edible mushrooms

Edible mushrooms (although it is better to speak directly about mushrooms) are those that have gastronomic interest. Not only does their consumption not affect our health, but they also provide interesting taste and aroma organoleptic values. FAO recognizes a total of 1,000 species of edible mushrooms whose fruiting bodies hide flavors and textures that cannot be found in any other product of nature.

4.2. Ornamental mushrooms

Ornamental mushrooms are those whose human interest lies in the beauty of their fruiting bodies. They are mushrooms that are not eaten but that can be used as decoration. It is true that it is not frequent, but it is in certain offering rituals in Mexico.

4.3. Medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms are those that synthesize interesting metabolic products in the clinical world. Certain unicellular species of fungi, to protect themselves from the attack of bacteria in the natural world, synthesize substances that inhibit their growth and even kill them. And humans, of course, have taken advantage of it. Indeed, antibiotics are obtained from the metabolic products of fungi.

  • We recommend reading: "Why do antibiotic resistance appear?"

4.4. Parasitic fungi

Parasitic fungi are those capable of colonizing an organ or tissue in our body and making us sick. Oral candidiasis, athlete's feet, dermatophytosis, pityriasis versicolor ... There are many fungal diseases, although it must be taken into account that we have antifungal drugs to treat them, that most of them are not serious (of course there are exceptions) and that only 0.1% of fungal species are capable of infecting our body.

  • To learn more: "The 10 most common fungal diseases (causes and symptoms)"

4.5. Contaminating fungi

Contaminating fungi are those that, although they do not behave as pathogens since they cannot colonize our body, they can grow in places that are part of our ecosystem. Namely, they are fungi that can rot the wood of our home or grow in the fruits of our kitchen. They will not harm us directly, but they can cause damage.

4.6. Hallucinogenic mushrooms

Magic mushrooms, also known as psychoactive mushrooms, are fungi that synthesize a chemical known as psilocybin, which, after being ingested, has neurological effects that cause more or less intense hallucinations. The sale is illegal in practically all countries, but traditionally they have been used for recreational purposes.

4.7. Toxic mushrooms

Toxic or poisonous mushrooms are those fungi that synthesize chemical substances known as mycotoxins, molecules that, after being ingested, cause systemic damage that can sometimes lead to death. Amanita phalloides, known as green oronja, is the most poisonous mushroom in the world. Its mycotoxins are not eliminated by cooking and 30 grams of mushroom is enough to cause death in complete safety due to liver damage (in the liver) and kidney (in the kidneys)

4.8. Industrial mushrooms

Industrial mushrooms are those used in industry, especially food, where its fermentation capacity is highly valued to produce products such as, for example, beer, bread and wine, where we use Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a kind of yeast.

  • We recommend you read: "The 23 uses of microorganisms in industry"