Fungi are an important group of eukaryotic microorganisms that lack photosynthetic ability but possess tremendous economic, health and scientific value. First, some fungi such as mushroom are a source of protein and food for humans; and other forms of fungi especially yeasts are used in the production of many food products that benefits man and animals. For example, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is yeast that has immense benefit in bread production where they serve as leavening agent in baking. This yeast (i.e., Saccharomyces cerevisiae), which is a type of fungi also has benefits in brewery where it is used for the production of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Another species of Saccharomyces known as S. boulardii is important in the production of probiotics which is used for the maintenance of the health of the gut or gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of humans.
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Moulds are other forms of fungi aside yeast that also possess tremendous industrial importance. Moulds are important in most fermentation process involved in wine production, food and other beverages. For example, citric acid used for soft drink production is sourced from moulds. Aspergillus niger is a mould that is used in industries for mass production of citric acid. More so, moulds such as Penicillium notatum cum P. chrysogenum are used for the production of antibiotics such as penicillin. Fungi are saprophytic in nature. Fungi are important agents of decay or decomposition because they help in the degradation of dead organic matter in the environment. This way, fungi play important role in maintaining the biosphere and tranquility of the earth; and fungi also play important roles in the recycling of nutrient in the atmosphere because of their biodegradative or saprophytic nature.
Generally, fungi are saprophytic microorganisms because of their ability to live and feed on dead or decaying organic matter including those of animal and plant origin from where they derive their energy and nutrient source as heterotrophs. As agents of disease and infections, fungi cause a number of clinically important disease and infections in humans, plants and animals. Fungi are also food spoilage organisms that cause the spoilage of food and food products. Some fungi especially moulds are also involved in the infestation and destruction of household furniture, books, other materials and buildings. However, majority of fungi are of immense economic, industrial, medical and pharmaceutical importance because they are sources from which major antibiotics used for treating infectious diseases of man are sourced from. For example, penicillin, an important antibiotic used clinically for treating and managing infectious diseases was first isolated from a fungus known as Penicillium chrysogenum (also known as P. notatum). The discovery of antibiotic from Penicillium species in the 1920’s by the research of Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) paved the way for the development of the field of antimicrobial therapy in clinical medicine. Today, there are plethora of antibiotics used for the management, control and treatment of infectious diseases of man and animals. Fungi have been known since prehistoric times, and their economic value have since been exploited by mankind even till date.
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