The human use of fungi for food preparation or preservation and other purposes is extensive and has a long history. Mushroom farming and mushroom gathering are large industries in many countries. The study of the historical uses and sociological impact of fungi is known as ethnomycology. Because of the capacity of this group to produce an enormous range of natural products with antimicrobial or other biological activities, many species have long been used or are being developed for industrial production of antibiotics, vitamins, and anti-cancer and cholesterol-lowering drugs. More recently, methods have been developed for genetic engineering of fungi, enabling metabolic engineering of fungal species. For example, genetic modification of yeast species—which are easy to grow at fast rates in large fermentation vessels—has opened up ways of pharmaceutical production that are potentially more efficient than production by the original source organisms. DrugsMany species produce metabolites that are major sources of pharmacologically active drugs. Particularly important are the antibiotics, including the penicillins, a structurally related group of β-lactam antibiotics that are synthesized from small peptides. Although naturally occurring penicillins such as penicillin G (produced by Penicillium chrysogenum) have a relatively narrow spectrum of biological activity, a wide range of other penicillins can be produced by chemical modification of the natural penicillins. Modern penicillins are semisynthetic compounds, obtained initially from fermentation cultures, but then structurally altered for specific desirable properties. Other antibiotics produced by fungi include: ciclosporin, commonly used as an immunosuppressant during transplant surgery; and fusidic acid, used to help control infection from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Widespread use of these antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial diseases, such as tuberculosis, syphilis, leprosy, and many others began in the early 20th century and continues to play a major part in anti-bacterial chemotherapy. In nature, antibiotics of fungal or bacterial origin appear to play a dual role: at high concentrations they act as chemical defense against competition with other microorganisms in species-rich environments, such as the rhizosphere, and at low concentrations as quorum-sensing molecules for intra- or interspecies signaling.Other drugs produced by fungi include griseofulvin isolated from Penicillium griseofulvum, used to treat fungal infections, and statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors), used to inhibit cholesterol synthesis. Examples of statins found in fungi include mevastatin from Penicillium citrinum and lovastatin from Aspergillus terreus and the oyster mushroom. Cultured foodsBaker's yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a unicellular fungus, is used to make bread and other wheat-based products, such as pizza dough and dumplings. Yeast species of the genus Saccharomyces are also used to produce alcoholic beverages through fermentation. Shoyu koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae) is an essential ingredient in brewing Shoyu (soy sauce) and sake, and the preparation of miso, while Rhizopus species are used for making tempeh. Several of these fungi are domesticated species that were bred or selected according to their capacity to ferment food without producing harmful mycotoxins (see below), which are produced by very closely related Aspergilli. Quorn, a meat substitute, is made from Fusarium venenatum. Medicinal use
Certain mushrooms enjoy usage as therapeutics in folk medicines, such as Traditional Chinese medicine. Notable medicinal mushrooms with a well-documented history of use include Agaricus subrufescens, Ganoderma lucidum, and Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Research has identified compounds produced by these and other fungi that have inhibitory biological effects against viruses and cancer cells. Specific metabolites, such as polysaccharide-K, ergotamine, and β-lactam antibiotics, are routinely used in clinical medicine. The shiitake mushroom is a source of lentinan, a clinical drug approved for use in cancer treatments in several countries, including Japan. In Europe and Japan, polysaccharide-K (brand name Krestin), a chemical derived from Trametes versicolor, is an approved adjuvant for cancer therapy. Edible and poisonous species Edible mushrooms are well-known examples of fungi. Many are commercially raised, but others must be harvested from the wild. Agaricus bisporus, sold as button mushrooms when small or Portobello mushrooms when larger, is a commonly eaten species, used in salads, soups, and many other dishes. Many Asian fungi are commercially grown and have increased in popularity in the West. They are often available fresh in grocery stores and markets, including straw mushrooms (Volvariella volvacea), oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), shiitakes (Lentinula edodes), and enokitake (Flammulina spp.).There are many more mushroom species that are harvested from the wild for personal consumption or commercial sale. Milk mushrooms, morels, chanterelles, truffles, black trumpets, and porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis) (also known as king boletes) demand a high price on the market. They are often used in gourmet dishes.Hall, pp. 13–26.Certain types of cheeses require inoculation of milk curds with fungal species that impart a unique flavor and texture to the cheese. Examples include the blue color in cheeses such as Stilton or Roquefort, which are made by inoculation with Penicillium roqueforti. Molds used in cheese production are non-toxic and are thus safe for human consumption; however, mycotoxins (e.g., aflatoxins, roquefortine C, patulin, or others) may accumulate because of growth of other fungi during cheese ripening or storage.
Many mushroom species are poisonous to humans, with toxicities ranging from slight digestive problems or allergic reactions as well as hallucinations to severe organ failures and death. Genera with mushrooms containing deadly toxins include Conocybe, Galerina, Lepiota, and, the most infamous, Amanita. The latter genus includes the destroying angel (A. virosa) and the death cap (A. phalloides), the most common cause of deadly mushroom poisoning. The false morel (Gyromitra esculenta) is occasionally considered a delicacy when cooked, yet can be highly toxic when eaten raw. Tricholoma equestre was considered edible until being implicated in serious poisonings causing rhabdomyolysis. Fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) also cause occasional non-fatal poisonings, mostly as a result of ingestion for use as a recreational drug for its hallucinogenic properties. Historically, fly agaric was used by different peoples in Europe and Asia and its present usage for religious or shamanic purposes is reported from some ethnic groups such as the Koryak people of north-eastern Siberia.As it is difficult to accurately identify a safe mushroom without proper training and knowledge, it is often advised to assume that a wild mushroom is poisonous and not to consume it.Hall, p. 7. Pest control In agriculture, fungi may be useful if they actively compete for nutrients and space with pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria or other fungi via the competitive exclusion principle, or if they are parasites of these pathogens. For example, certain species may be used to eliminate or suppress the growth of harmful plant pathogens, such as insects, mites, weeds, nematodes, and other fungi that cause diseases of important crop plants. This has generated strong interest in practical applications that use these fungi in the biological control of these agricultural pests. Entomopathogenic fungi can be used as biopesticides, as they actively kill insects. Examples that have been used as biological insecticides are Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium spp, Hirsutella spp, Paecilomyces (Isaria) spp, and Lecanicillium lecanii. Endophytic fungi of grasses of the genus Neotyphodium, such as N. coenophialum, produce alkaloids that are toxic to a range of invertebrate and vertebrate herbivores. These alkaloids protect grass plants from herbivory, but several endophyte alkaloids can poison grazing animals, such as cattle and sheep. Infecting cultivars of pasture or forage grasses with Neotyphodium endophytes is one approach being used in grass breeding programs; the fungal strains are selected for producing only alkaloids that increase resistance to herbivores such as insects, while being non-toxic to livestock. Bioremediation Certain fungi, in particular "white rot" fungi, can degrade insecticides, herbicides, pentachlorophenol, creosote, coal tars, and heavy fuels and turn them into carbon dioxide, water, and basic elements. Fungi have been shown to biomineralize uranium oxides, suggesting they may have application in the bioremediation of radioactively polluted sites. Model organismsSeveral pivotal discoveries in biology were made by researchers using fungi as model organisms, that is, fungi that grow and sexually reproduce rapidly in the laboratory. For example, the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis was formulated by scientists using the bread mold Neurospora crassa to test their biochemical theories. Other important model fungi are Aspergillus nidulans and the yeasts Saccaromyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe, each of which with a long history of use to investigate issues in eukaryotic cell biology and genetics, such as cell cycle regulation, chromatin structure, and gene regulation. Other fungal models have more recently emerged that each address specific biological questions relevant to medicine, plant pathology, and industrial uses; examples include Candida albicans, a dimorphic, opportunistic human pathogen, Magnaporthe grisea, a plant pathogen, and Pichia pastoris, a yeast widely used for eukaryotic protein expression. OthersFungi are used extensively to produce industrial chemicals like citric, gluconic, lactic, and malic acids, and industrial enzymes, such as lipases used in biological detergents, cellulases used in making cellulosic ethanol and stonewashed jeans, and amylases, invertases, proteases and xylanases. Several species, most notably Psilocybin mushrooms (colloquially known as magic mushrooms), are ingested for their psychedelic properties, both recreationally and religiously.