Penicillium chrysogenum

Today’s entry was written and photographed by Cora den Hartigh. She writes:

Mould isn’t often considered beautiful, but I think there is a haunting quality to the gentle blues and soft yellows of this Penicillium chrysogenum. This fungus was cultured on agar medium in the laboratory. Rapid growth hastened a process called guttation, that produced gem-like water droplets suspended on the fuzz of this mould’s body. Guttation is common in fungi with some conks oozing blood red or viscous black substances, but it is perhaps most appreciated as a sometimes-contributor to the morning dew on herbaceous plants. If you aren’t yet convinced of the beauty of this mould, perhaps the elegance of Penicillium‘s conidia strung in beads from draping conidiophores under a microscope will prove convincing. If flowers had skeletons, maybe they would look like this!

Aesthetics aside, Penicillium is the famous fungal genus that contributed to the discovery of penicillin, the antibiotic whose discovery opened up a new field of medical treatments. As fungal hyphae stretch into substrates in search of food, they release enzymes to break nutrient sources down for ease of absorption (somewhat akin to having an external stomach). The catch is, they must then protect their processed foods from competitors! Penicillin is just that, an antibacterial that Penicillium uses to protect its plate at dinnertime. It is worth mentioning that Penicillium chrysogenum was discovered on a cantaloupe in Illinois and is not the same as Alexander Fleming’s Penicillium notatum, which produces significantly less penicillin. However, it was Penicillium chrysogenum that contributed to the mass-production of penicillin. Resistance to antibiotics is becoming an increasing concern globally; it is a bolstering thought that there remains a vast diversity of fungi yet undiscovered that may have similar potential.

Daniel adds: Tom Volk’s always excellent Fungi site has a detailed article on Penicillium chrysogenum, with additional details about the discovery and history of penicillin.

Penicillium chrysogenum
Penicillium chrysogenum

6 responses to “Penicillium chrysogenum”

  1. Bonnie

    Very pretty and very cool!

  2. arlee

    As an artist who is inspired by the micro moments in nature, i have to say that is one beautiful mould!

  3. Laura

    To Cora- Thank you for this entry! I am a botanist and a physician, and so appreciate the microscopic view from both aspects. Thank you – Laura

  4. michael aman

    Can penicillin mold make one salivate? Probably not most readers. But I’m headed to the kitchen as soon as I post this note to make a salad heavily garnished with blue cheese chunks. I didn’t know what to have for dinner. Now I do. Thanks, Cora and BPoD!

  5. Bonaventure Magrys

    I read somewhere that a golden-tinted mold grew on the surface of certain ancient egyptian beer formulations and it supplied them with a dose of tetracyclin. Cant find the original source though.

  6. cora.denhartigh

    This is a fascinating subject! Humans have augmented foods for ages with different bacterias and moulds – kombucha, sourdough, yogurt, any manner of fermented vegetable, cheeses or kefir might all be examples. Of course preservation/shelf life is a motivator, but all of these processes also contribute to healthy gut flora that can aid digestion, breaking down foods before they even make it to the dinner table. Nowadays preservatives, freezers and refrigerators have taken the place of fermentation and I think that our societies and intestines are suffering from being just too clean! What do you think?
    I have read about ancient brewing recipes adding different herbs, such as peppermint and the like, presumably for medicinal purposes. I hadn’t heard of tetracycline being added! I did a quick Google Scholar search and found heaps of articles evidencing the use of Streptomyces bacteria for the production of tetracycline in Nubia around 350 AD. Apparently Streptomyces produces tetracycline, which binds with calcium and is deposited in bones where it can be detected by archaeologists. Amazing that it persists for so long! Thank you!

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