HISTORY OF MYCOLOGY

Petri dish with mold colonies isolated on white

What is mycology? Mycology is simply defined as the study of fungi. Fungi (singular: fungus) are eukaryotic and heterotrophic microorganisms that do not contain chlorophyll but obtains its nutrient through the absorption of food and/or nutrients from dead or decaying organic matter in its environment. The study of fungi actually began in the early 1830’s following the serendipitous discovery of fungi as the causative agent of the white muscardine disease of silkworm. Nonetheless, the benefit and use of fungi by mankind have been noted even before this period, but the discovery and description of fungi could not be clarified until the discovery of the microscope. This discovery that fungi were responsible in causing the white muscardine disease of silkworm was made by Agostino Bassi (1773-1856) in 1835. Agostino Bassi was perhaps the first to discover that some fungal organisms are pathogenic to other living organisms including humans. Agostino Bassi demonstrated experimentally that a type of silkworm disease was caused by a parasitic fungus known as Beauveria bassiana, which he successfully isolated and used the parasitic fungus to infect a healthy animal in order to confirm his observation and discovery. His work set the foundation for the discovery and development of other aspects of microbiology especially the discovery and explanation that a particular disease is caused by a particular microbe, as opined in the works of Robert Koch (1843-1910), another founding father of microbiology.

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Beauveria bassiana possess economic and agricultural value because the spores of the fungus are used today as a biological pest control agent especially in the control of pests such as termites, aphids and beetles. This way, they are important biological insecticides for farming activities since they prevent the destruction caused by insect pests on crops. This notable discovery of fungi as a pathogen by Agostino Bassi was given impetus following other discoveries in the field of microbiology which made further and detailed fungi investigation possible. Most importantly was the discovery of Sabouraud dextrose agar (SDA) medium (which does not readily support bacterial growth because of its selective nature) for the selective isolation of fungi by the French dermatologist and mycologist, Dr. Raymond Jacques Adrien Sabouraud (1864-1938) in the early 1900’s. Sabouraud dextrose agar (SDA) is selective in nature because it contains some growth inhibitory substances such as antibiotics (e.g., chloramphenicol and cycloheximide) which prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria and some saprophytic fungus while allowing only the fungus of interest to grow.

Further reading

Anaissie E.J, McGinnis M.R, Pfaller M.A (2009). Clinical Mycology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. London.

Baumgardner D.J (2012). Soil-related bacterial and fungal infections. J Am Board Fam Med, 25:734-744.

Calderone R.A and Cihlar R.L (eds). Fungal Pathogenesis: Principles and Clinical Applications. New York: Marcel Dekker; 2002.

Champoux J.J, Neidhardt F.C, Drew W.L and Plorde J.J (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology: An Introduction to Infectious Diseases. 4th edition. McGraw Hill Companies Inc, USA.       

Dix, N.J.  and Webster, J.  (1995). Fungal Ecology. Chapman and Hall, London.

Gladwin M and Trattler B (2006). Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple. 3rd edition. MedMaster, Inc., Miami, USA.

Larone D.H (2011). Medically Important Fungi: A Guide to Identification. Fifth edition. American Society of Microbiology Press, USA.

Madigan M.T., Martinko J.M., Dunlap P.V and Clark D.P (2009). Brock Biology of Microorganisms, 12th edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings Inc, USA.

Stephenson S.L (2010). The Kingdom Fungi: The Biology of Mushrooms, Molds and Lichens. First edition. Timber Press.

Sullivan D.J and Moran G.P (2014). Human Pathogenic Fungi: Molecular Biology and Pathogenic Mechanisms. Second edition. American Society of Microbiology Press, USA.

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