Ascomycota – Infection, Transmission & Diseases


Ascomycota is another name for sac fungi , which occur in very different forms. They are found in almost all habitats and range from being very useful (for making food like bread, beer, wine, etc.) to valuable and tasty edible mushrooms (like truffles and morels) to causing serious infectious diseases , for example by Candida or Aspergillus species.

Was sind Ascomycota?

With more than 20,000 species, Ascomycota (sac fungi) form one of the largest departments of fungi. They owe their name to their tube-like reproductive organs, the asci, in which the reduction division of the haploid ascospores takes place in the case of sexual reproduction.

Most Ascomycota are characterized by their cell threads, which are called hyphae and measure five micrometres on average. They are usually multicellular, branch out many times and together form a network, the mycelium.

The individual cells of the hyphae have cell walls that mostly consist of chitin and beta-glucans. Even within a hypha, the individual cells are separated by cell walls, so that if a hypha is injured, only the cytoplasm of this one cell can escape and the rest of the hypha, including its cytoplasm, remains intact. However, there are also unicellular Ascomycota that do not form hyphae, as in some yeast fungi .

In the course of sexual reproduction, some sac fungi form underground or aboveground fruiting bodies, some of which are very popular and very expensive as edible mushrooms. These include truffles and some types of morels.

Molds (Aspergillus) also belong to the Ascomycota. Many Ascomycota have the ability to capture photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria and form a symbiosis with them. These are so-called lichens, which were probably the first land dwellers on earth to create the conditions for the emergence of plants and animals by decomposing rock and using photosynthesis. Also important are sac fungus species, which with their hyphae can enter into a symbiotic connection, called mycorrhiza, with the hairy roots of trees and almost all other plants.

Occurrence, Distribution & Properties

Ascomycota are found in almost all land-based habitats. With the exception of yeast cells, ascomycete species are mostly haploid, i.e. only equipped with a single set of chromosomes. Reproduction occurs largely through asexual sporulation, which develops in specialized cells called conidia. Some species also have sexual development with the formation of ascospores in tube-like structures, the asci.

Ascomycota mostly appear as saprophytes, as recyclers and decomposers of residual biomass. Some species can also be described as “carnivorous” because they can use their hyphae to capture, kill and digest things such as amoebas, rotifers, tardigrades, nematodes and other creatures.

Some species that are normally ubiquitous in the soil also appear as kerosene or diesel fungi. They can spread into aircraft tanks or diesel vehicle tanks and cause clogs or other damage to fuel lines.

Various physiological properties of certain types of sac fungi are used, for example, to obtain antibiotics or for the gentlest possible immunosuppression to suppress rejection reactions . The pathogenic properties of some Ascomycota, which can lead to pneumonia and fungal infections of the skin , usually indicate a weakened or artificially suppressed immune system .

There is no risk of infection from person to person. More dangerous can be the effects of inhaled highly toxic substances produced by plant-infecting sac fungi, such as ergot fungus .

Meaning & Function

Ascomycota have a very high – mostly indirect – importance for health, which far outweighs their fundamentally existing pathogenic potential. Immediate benefits are that sac (mold) cultures yield penicillin , an antibiotic that has revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections for many decades.

Ciclosporin , which is also produced by sac fungi, is a very effective drug that is used for immunosuppression after organ transplants and may also play a future role in suppressing autoimmune reactions in diseases such as Hashimoto ‘s or multiple sclerosis (MS).

In addition, various enzymes such as insulin or agents for dissolving thrombi and other substances with specific health relevance can be produced from genetically modified sac fungi .

Various types of sac fungi are of indirect importance for health in the production of food. Mainly baking yeasts, fermentation yeasts for the production of wine and beer and molds for the production of well-known cheeses such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola should be mentioned here.

The few species of sac fungi also have a direct influence on the human metabolism . They are not only well suited for consumption as edible and gourmet mushrooms, but also provide important minerals , amino acids , glucans and polysaccharides . These are mushroom varieties such as truffles and morels.

Diseases & Ailments

Similar to the health-relevant effects, direct and indirect dangers can emanate from the Ascomycota. Immediate dangers exist in the form of infection with sac fungi such as Candida or Aspergillus species. In the case of a weakened immune system, the fungus, which belongs to the unicellular yeast fungi , can trigger infections of the skin and mucous membranes , a candidiasis . Likewise, some types of mold can cause infections, so-called aspergillosis . The lungs are often affected. Allergies to the spores of the Aspergillus mold are also widespread .

Some Ascomycota release highly toxic toxins, some of which are also used in pharmacy. For example, ergot alkaloids synthesized by molds are used in the pharmaceutical industry to produce specific active ingredients. The pharmacological effects of ergot alkaloids are very diverse. They have a stimulating or inhibiting effect on some hormone receptors. For example, ergot alkaloids can inhibit the secretion of prolactin and somatotropin .

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.