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.