Have you ever seen a mushroom growing in your yard? Do you wonder why you get Athlete’s Foot? Do you enjoy tasty mushrooms in spaghetti sauce?
Do like to drink a beer or a glass of wine when the mood strikes? The study of mycology explores all of these questions.
Mycology is a branch of botany that studies fungi and how fungi interact with other plants, animals, and humans. Fungus plays a big role in the green world because it helps break things down. Unfortunately, little is known about mycology. It is estimated that there are over 1.5 million species of fungi, but only 70,000 are known and named. That leaves lots of areas to explore and discover.
Fungus comes in many shapes, sizes, and locations. They are one of the major kingdoms of organisms. Fungus includes mushrooms, molds, truffles, yeasts, lichens, and plant pathogens. It’s important to have a solid understanding of mycology because many types of fungi can be parasitic or poisonous. Even if you are just mushroom picking in the forest for fun, a mistake can be fatal.
Mycology includes how humans use fungi. Fungi are used in a variety of products, antibiotics, vitamins, yogurt, anti-cancer drugs, and cholesterol-fighting prescriptions. One well-known fungus is yeast. Yeast is used in baking, but it is also used in fermentation to create tasty beers and flavorful wines. Other fungi are used to create industrial chemicals, whiten paper, control pests, or degrade insecticides and herbicides. Although illegal, some people use mushrooms as psychedelic drugs.
When you eat button or portabello mushrooms, you are dining on one of the more popular forms of fungi. In many regions of the nation, commercial mushroom growers make a very good business growing and collecting mushrooms. They are the reason that mushrooms are always available in your grocery stores. Some mushroom growers specialize in exotic mushrooms for fancy restaurants. They must be careful to pick the right species because many mushrooms are poisonous.
When a mycologist studies a specific fungus, they want to learn about the structure, taxonomy, genetics, physiology, growth, development, and use. It is important to understand what every species can do to humans because fungi can be lethal. Mycologists are also experts on toxins and poisoning. Like any botanist they are scientists and spend the majority of their time collecting specimen so they can study cell structures and reproduction techniques under high-powered microscopes in large laboratories.
If you want to learn about mycology, attend university and obtain a degree in botany, biology, microbiology, or mycology. There are very few programs, if any, in the United States that specialize solely in mycology. It’s unfortunate because of the potential of mycology. There are so many unknown species that could be beneficial to humans as sources of nutrition or new pharmaceuticals.
A person with a mycology background can find work consulting, improving air quality by investigating molds, preventing fungal diseases, growing mushrooms for a commercial operation, picking wild mushrooms, or selling exotic mushrooms to quality restaurants.
Governments, universities, research laboratories, and botanical gardens also hire mycologists to study fungi for research and development. Despite the fact that there are not that many jobs available, this unique career has an optimistic future. Since there are so many undiscovered species of fungi, there is lots of potential for vast leaps in science.
If you are lucky enough to land a career in mycology, you can make $66,000 to $92,000 per year. Most mycologists make about $79,000. Learning biology, botany, and joining the Mycological Society of America are good steps to a mycological career. Mycology is an exciting science to be involved in. Who knows what this science will discover next?
Mycological Society of America
North American Mycological Association
International Mycological Association