Food Drugs and Poisons

Fungi play a major role in the diet of humans. Yeasts (Saccaromyces cere-visiae) are used in the process of fermentation, in which they break down carbohydrates to liberate carbon dioxide and to produce alcohol. Gin is made when juniper berries are fermented, wine from grapes, beer from grains, bourbon from corn, and scotch from barley. Yeasts are also used in making Limburger cheese, yogurt, and Kombucha tea. Baker's yeast produces a high proportion of CO2, which causes the dough to rise. Molds, generally species of Penicillium, are used to produce cheese such as blue, Roquefort, and Camembert.

The new age of antibiotics was ushered in with Sir Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in 1929. It was first produced by the blue-green mold Penicillium notatum. Many other antibiotics are produced from Actino-mycetes. On the other hand, aflatoxins produced by species of Aspergillus cause food spoilage and are carcinogenic. Mushrooms also produce toxins that only affect humans when they are eaten. Examples of these are the am-atoxins and phallotoxins produced by a mushroom, Amanita virosa, that are often fatal to humans; muscarine and muscimol produced by the fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, are usually not fatal. Hallucinogens such as psilocybin and psilocin are produced by several species of mushrooms including Psilo-cybe cubensis and the protoplasmic poison monomethyhydrozine (MMH) by the false morel Gyromitra esculenta.

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