3 Reasons Why Mushrooms Are Not Plants | ASM.org (2023)

Have you ever picked up something and wondered "what is it?" Taxonomists help answer this question by responsibly documenting phenotypic (trait) and genotypic (genetic) differences between living organisms, enabling Quickly differentiate and identify them. Classifying organisms is useful because we can simply use broad categories as reference points, rather than describing a series of characteristics, which can tell us not only about the nature of an individual, but also about its relationship to other similar organisms . It is generally accepted that new organisms classified as vertebrates have a backbone made up of vertebrae. For scientists, taxa are cornerstones of understanding: the foundations on which new knowledge is built. This metaphor conveys the fundamental importance of classification, but suggests a stability that taxonomy lacks.

For most of the history of science, mushrooms were botanists. Until recently—roughly during human lifetimes—fungi were classified as plants, a centuries-old classification that can be summed up by Carl Linnaeus' adage: "Plant grows and lives, and animals grow, live and feel." The "father of modern taxonomy" (Iinventor of the racist taxonomy of humanity) divides organisms into two categories: animals or plants. This example could be rephrased as animals and "non-animals", since the category "plants" has long represented a group of unrelated organisms. In the absence of an evolutionary context, these classifications attempt to group organisms according to perceivable, observable similarities rather than "relatedness" in the modern genetic sense.

The classification of fungi as plants has led to some interesting developments. Earliest description of an entomopathogenic fungus (possiblyCordyceps armyListen)) French entomologist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur used it as the root of plants. Mushrooms were still considered plants when the Mycological Society of America was formed, the society's journalmycologyFrom the New York Botanical Garden. The garden's herbarium still houses one of the largest collections of mushrooms in the world. This fusion of fungi and plants is a modern problem: Misclassification matters because the way we classify organisms affects how we understand, support (both economically and culturally) and interact with them.

Why are mushrooms considered plants?

Today we know that mushrooms are not plants, but the botanical history of mushrooms offers an interesting look into our scientific biases, how we classify organisms, and how they affect our collective knowledge.

Taxonomic classifications are constantly changing as we better understand the astonishing diversity that surrounds us. Even in the age of genomics, we have barely touched this diversity. Because we don't have the full picture of the diversity of life, our best classifications can (and do) change periodically based on new arrivals or new evidence. Today we have an abundance of molecular classification tools, but taxonomic classification dates back to an era before the discovery of DNA, the concept of evolution, and the invention of the microscope. Early taxonomy was limited by the tools (and views) available.

We must keep this caveat in mind when considering some of the earliest attempts to classify life. Mushrooms are the first taxonomic representatives of fungi. By looking at fungi, early taxonomists determined that fungi are motile (mushrooms are not immobile) and have tough cell walls to support them. These characteristics were enough for the first scientists to conclude that mushrooms were not animals and equate them with plants.

Reason 1: Mushrooms have no chloroplasts

3 Reasons Why Mushrooms Are Not Plants | ASM.org (1)

We've found the first reason why mushrooms aren't plants: Mushrooms don't have chloroplasts. This green, uniform character of plants is easily visible to the naked eye, and these chlorophyll-containing plastids continue to represent milestones in the modern understanding of plant evolution. Of course, some plants lack functional chloroplasts, such asGhost Tube (Monotrope)But we do know that these flowering plants (once "higher plants") have lost chlorophyll in their evolutionary history. This evolutionary framework was missing before Darwin, but it shows how unwilling biology is to cooperate with our artificial boundaries. The rough outlines of our biological categories are based on what we can see, whereas microbes, including fungi with no observable fruiting bodies, are an afterthought.

Reason 2: Mushrooms obtain nutrients in a unique way

The old paradigms of taxonomy of life are so entrenched that questioning them is a daunting task. However, different species of fungi provide scientists with a pleasant tool to work with. In 1955, George Willard Martin challenged the notion that fungi should be classified as plantsAn article titled "Are Mushrooms Plants?".In the introduction, he dared to say that most mycologists at the time would agree. However, his intensive research on the subject influenced Robert Harding Whittaker's revolutionary attempt at taxonomy.

Whittaker has published several articles presenting more areas of life. He ultimately settled on 5 kingdoms, but became embroiled in a decades-long philosophical debate about the proper way to record life. While the modern taxonomist Herbert Copeland advocated detailed descriptions of taxonomic characters in terms of historical understanding,Whittaker developed his theory based on ecology.Whitaker's theory isBased on three ecological rolesOrganisms can play: producers (photosynthesizers), consumers (consumers) and reducers (decomposers).

3 Reasons Why Mushrooms Are Not Plants | ASM.org (2)

Arguably, Whittaker's reasoning ultimately removed mushrooms from the plant kingdom, so there's another reason why mushrooms aren't plants: mushrooms have a unique way of acquiring nutrients. Mushrooms secrete digestive enzymes and then absorb nutrients from the environment. This is in stark contrast to plants that make their own food (thanks to their chloroplasts). Whittaker was well aware that this difference ecologically separates fungi from plants, but he also addressed a more fundamental question: Why do we classify organisms?Better try to unify organisms through evolutionary historyInstead of breaking up?

When living organisms were first cataloged, we thought that one day the list might be complete. Whittaker knew that new versions of this list were being created every day, so instead of categorizing based on traits alone, he preferred kingdoms that represented important evolutionary trajectories. These categories are most useful in terms of evolution and ecology. he posted his1969 Classification of the 5 kingdoms for textbook preparation, which includes separate kingdoms of fungi and plants.

Reason Three: Molecular Evidence Suggests Fungi Are More Closely Related to Animals Than Plants

The proposed separation of fungi and plants is clearly supported by molecular evidence.Computational phylogeny of comparative eukaryotesShowing that fungi are more closely related to us than plants. Fungi and animals formed a lineage known as the retroconta, named for the single posterior flagella present in their last common ancestor. Today, this posterior flagella drives primitive fungal spores and animal sperm.

Here's one final reason why mushrooms aren't plants: the bestmolecular evidenceShows that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. These computational and molecular approaches are compelling because they provide a robust evolutionary history that can pinpoint relatedness of organisms and estimate when they diverged from a common ancestor. The molecular understanding of life has revealed 3 possible major domains of life: bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes.embedded ancient). They differ in their cellular components (eg, membrane-bound organelles) and membrane composition.

Although fungi have gained their own kingdom, they still demand taxonomic attention. Molecular methods have shown that some fungi have been described more than once by mycologists. Different names for sexual (i.e. mushroom-producing) and asexual forms of the same fungus inspired attempts to modify the fungal taxon, modestly named "name = Mushroom."This initiative continues today, but the challenges are enormous and databases such asmushroom listLists synonyms and bibliographical references with mushroom descriptions.

How has the (mis)classification of mycology as a botanical practice affected the development of the discipline? The more we learn about fungi, the better equipped we are to protect ourselves (and other organisms) from fungal infections. Mushrooms can teach us a lot (to name just 3) about evolution, ecology, and cell biology. Plant science departments still train many mycologists across the country, but where would mycology go if the discipline was supported by a similar number of departments? Will more research on the microbiome explicitly include the fungiome? we better get readyThreats of fungi to food safetyWhat if the USDA had an Animal, Plant*, and Fungal* Health Protection Agency? We know a lot about mushrooms, but one thing is for sure: mushrooms are not plants.

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