Is it a bird? Is it a Douglas fir? No, it’s Mold!!!

I’m not a biologist, but as a zooarch I sometimes like to pretend that I am. Just a few minutes ago I became intrigued by mold.

Go forth and multiply

So mold is pretty nasty when it grows in your house, on that piece of fruit way back in the far corner of the fridge, or worse, on your body. Still when you look at it up close; really really close, it’s pretty fascinating.  Look real close and you’ll see a bunch of tiny little hairs.

tah-nee whatt hurs…

Only those aren’t hairs but hyphae. Each Hypha (not to be confused with the town in Israel which is spelled Haifa!) is a vegetal filament filled with cells and surrounded by an outer cell wall. The cells inside are separated by wall like structures called septa , which are sort of like plant cell walls, only not. Remember, molds are fungi, not plants.

Anyway, the septa are porous so that materials, including food for the mold can pass through them and reach each cell in the filament.  If I were to make a horrible analogy, I would say that each filament is a dude, and that each cell is like one of the dude’s body parts. And when you see mold on a piece of fruit, well that’s like a bunch of dudes…on a piece of fruit.

mold

Back to mold though. We all know mold, like other fungi doesn’t get its energy from sunlight like a good ‘ol plant would. Thankfully, molds, mushrooms and their ilk also don’t have mouths,  so how does it eat?  Each Hypha has special cells near its tip that secrete enzymes which break down organic materials (that piece of fruit in the fridge again – you really should throw that out you slob) and create energy for the cells inside the hypha. As the mold grows, it grows at the tip, and here is where it gets cool.

As the tip grows, new septa form behind the tip to form new cells.  Sometimes the new cell that gets pinched off by the septa will in essence fall off and become the basis of a new hypha. It’s called vegitative reproduction. It’s how plant clippings work, and how animal hair doesn’t. It’s why you don’t become a parent after each haircut. It’s why fungi are so damn cool. They have these plant like traits, and some animal like traits; like the puking on its food to break it down and eat it.

Gross!

But wait. Ever notice how wherever there is mold, there isn’t much else living (meth heads in moldy apartments excluded)? Why? Because molds release biochemicals that pretty much kill of their non-moldy neighbors. Why is that cool? Because penicillin that’s why! Alexander Flemming was able to control this process and in turn ended up saving countless lives. So next time you think “yuck” when you see some mold, take a closer look. It’s sort of cool, and might save your life some day. That is if it hasn’t already.

Eat that John McClain!

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4 comments on “Is it a bird? Is it a Douglas fir? No, it’s Mold!!!

  1. homer says:

    Yes, pictures of men in speedos!

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