Ascomycota: Characteristics & Structure

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Ascomycota isn't a household name, but I bet you've heard of one or two species within this group. This lesson will explore the characteristics and structure of this enormous group of fungi, so you can leave an Ascomycota expert.

Ascomycota Defined

What do the words grocery, duffle, Louis Vuitton, Ziploc, backpack, Gucci and Ascomycota have in common? They are all names associated with bags or sacs. And while you'd probably rather be dealing with a beautiful Louis Vuitton handbag, the focus of this lesson is on another type sac.

Ascomycota is a group of fungi named after a saclike structure called an ascus, which is used in reproduction. This group makes up 75% of all of the known fungi and consists of 65,000 species. Wow, Gucci has nothing on Ascomycota!

Let's look at some of the characteristics of this group, which is conveniently nicknamed 'sac fungi.'

The Scarlet Elf Cup is a type of Ascomycota fungi
Ascomycota

Characteristics

So, other than having a name associated with a sac, what else is special about this group? Actually, quite a bit. Some species have mutualistic relationships with plants and algae, meaning they help the plants and algae, and the plants and algae help them.

For example, some species attach to the roots of plants where they make minerals useable for the plants while the plant provides them with food.

Many lichen are the result of Ascomycota fungi and algae forming a mutualistic relationship
lichen

Or some have a mutualistic relationship with algae to form lichen. The algae produce food and the Ascomycota offers structure and support for the algae.

The Ascomycota group can be found all over the world (even in Antarctica), and chances are you are familiar with at least one or two species. For example, the antibiotic penicillin comes from a type of Ascomycota fungi, as does baker's yeast, as well as the mushroom delicacies truffles and morels.

But they aren't all good. Many cause mold growth on food, diaper rashes on babies, diseases on plants, mildew on your walls, and lung infections in people with compromised immune systems.

Structure

Remember, this group's claim to fame is the sac, so let's delve into that in more detail. The ascocarp is the part of the fungi that produces the spores. The sac containing the spores is the ascus and spores are called ascospores.

Asco keeps appearing in these names, and it's fitting because it means sac in Greek. Maybe I should start using that in my everyday life: 'I'm going to grab my grocery asco before I go to the store.' Hmmmm, it doesn't have the same ring to it.

The ascocarp can come in a wide variety of colors, textures and shapes. For example, some are squishy, while others are hard. They can be black, brown, orange, red, blue and green. Some are shaped like cups, others like sponges, some look like coral and some even look like candies.

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