How Fungi Obtain Nutrition

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Because they lack chlorophyll, fungi cannot make their own food. Therefore, fungi must obtain nutrients by absorbing them from the environment. Fungi release digestive enzymes into the environment and their food sources are digested outside the cells of the fungus. When enzymatic digestion is complete, the fungus absorbs the nutrients that were released by this process. Microscopic fungi absorb dissolved nutrients from their surroundings directly through their cell walls. However, nutrients typically enter larger fungi by diffusing into stringy strands of root-like hyphae growing through the substrate. The term “substrate” in this instance refers to the dead or living thing that the fungus feeds upon, such as soil or leaf litter. The strands of the hyphae absorb water and nutrients from the surroundings, giving energy to the fungus for growth and reproduction. When a fungus has a thick mat-like growth of lots of hyphae this is known as a mycelium. Most fungi are saprophytic, meaning they feed on dead organic material. Saprophytic fungi are often found on the floor of woodlands, where there is a lot of dead plant material such as fallen leaves, twigs, and logs as well as animal dung. Other fungi are parasitic and feed on other living organisms (harming them in the meantime). Symbiotic fungi live on or inside other living things, but do not cause damage. In a mutualistic relationship the fungi and the organism on which it lives both receive benefits from the mutual relationship. Mycorrhiza is the name given to a symbiotic relationship between a fungi and a tree in which the fungi grow underground, and the fungi’s mycelium (thick mat of hyphae) absorbs nutrients and water from the soil and passes what isn’t needed by the fungus through into the roots of the tree. A lichen is another example of a symbiotic relationship in which a fungus and an alga grow

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