In recent years we have been hearing a lot concerning the health effects associated with mould. Few people would think of the numerous benefits we get from mould.
First, mould contributes immensely to the decomposition of organic matter hence helping in recycling of nutrients. Imagine the mountains of garbage we could be having (unless we burn it) without the help of mould and other soil micro-organisms. Moulds also play an important role in waste treatment and the breaking down of pesticides.
Mould Contribution to Food Industry
Hardly do we think the mushrooms that we so much enjoy eating belong to the same group as the moulds, i.e., the fungi. As a small boy, we used to eat the smutted inflorescence of sorghum. I can only imagine the billions of spores of the fungus we ate and probably helped in spore dispersal. We never got sick! What about our favourite blue cheese? Some people may not be aware that it is made with the help of a mould called Penicillium roquefortii. Other cheeses such as Camembert and Brie are ripened by Penicillium camembertii. Some sweet wines such as the Sauternes are made from grapes infested by a mould called Botrytis cinerea. In the Far East there are a number of popular foods and sauces processed with the help of moulds. Tempeh for example is made by inoculating soybean with Rhizopus oligosporus and leaving the mould to colonize the soybean for some time. A high-protein meat-like product called ‘Qourn’ is made from a strain of Fusarium venenatum.
Mould Contribution to Human and Veterinary Medicine
Probably not many people know that the first antibiotic ever, penicillin, discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1927, is produced by moulds within the genus Penicillium (primarily Penicillium chrysogenum). There are other antibiotics, antifungal compounds, cholesterol-reducing drugs, immunosuppressant compounds, and important enzymes from moulds.
Mould Contribution to Crop Protection
Some moulds have been used successfully in biological control of agricultural pests and diseases. Fusarium oxysporum fsp. cannabis, for example, is used as bioherbicide against marijuana plants while Beauveria bassiana is widely used in formulation of bio-insecticides.
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