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Without realising it, you come across fungi every day. In fact fungi are pretty crucial to all forms of life on earth. There are over 250,000 species of fungi, most of which are saprophytes which feed on dead plants or animals, and are found in soil and compost heaps. Fungi are hugely beneficial - most of our bread relies on a type of yeast to make it rise. Without Saccharomyces cervisiae there would be no beer. Penicillium camemberti is used to produce brie and camembert. But fungi can also cause lots of damage - to our food (like Aspergilllus which makes bread mouldy), damage to our crops (potato blight) damage to our trees (Dutch Elm, Ash die back), damage to our buildings (dry rot) and also cause diseases in humans and animals.

Alexander Fleming is famous for discovering penicillin at St Mary’s hospital in 1928, when he returned from his holiday to find that a fungus had accidentally contaminated an agar plate. Find out what the fungus was, what effect it had on the bacteria growing on the plate, and why it took another decade or so for penicillin to be used clinically. Look at the BBC history site: ( or watch the clip as a starter ( If you are in London, you can even arrange to visit the museum in Paddington, which is fascinating.

In this module, you will learn about the two main types of fungi (yeast and filamentous mould) – but also about dimorphic fungi which can exist in either state. You will see how these differ in terms of structure and composition, the sorts of infections they can cause and how they may be treated.

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