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Mycologist  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotMycologists study mushrooms and other fungi. Like plants and animals, fungi are one of the major kingdoms of organisms.

Linda Kohn is president of the Mycological Society of America. She says mycologists might be working as taxonomists (that is, classifying fungi). Or they might be studying the physiology of fungi, the genetics of fungi, fungal cell biology or the evolution of environmental health fungi.

"For example, there is a fungal component in 'sick building syndrome.' Other mycologists specialize in air quality and fungi. Some mycologists are self-employed consultants who consult with school districts, hospitals or private home owners regarding air quality."

There are research groups devoted to using fungi as a system for producing compounds in genetically engineered organisms.

dotOther mycologists might work in the area of plant health. "Fungi are the major cause of plant disease. Mycologists are looking for ways to improve crops and to produce crops that are resistant to fungal disease," says Kohn.

dotOther people study medical mycology, examining fungal disease and allergies in humans. For example, you can study aging in humans, but there are limits to the experiments you can do. Since yeast and humans have similar cell processes, you can use yeast to study biological processes.

"Some mycologists are involved in industrial processes. Fungi produce huge quantities of enzymes that are economically useful. Fungi are being used for things like whitening paper without [the] use of bleaches. This allows us to produce paper in a less polluting way," adds Kohn.

dotPeople who work in breweries or in winemaking are also practicing mycology. "Anybody who uses yeast commercially is a kind of a mycologist," says Kohn.

"Then there are people who grow mushrooms commercially. Cottage industries are springing up where people collect wild mushrooms and sell them to gourmet restaurants and food retailers."

At a Glance

Study the many facets of fungi

  • Some mycologists are consultants
  • You could be involved in the area of plant health or medical mycology
  • Get a degree in botany or microbiology, then specialize