The phylum Ascomycota contain some delectable morsels, such as the morels and truffles, as well as brewer's yeast and baker's yeast, and most of the fungi that form lichens with algae.
The Ascomycota have made some of the most significant contributions to human culture – penicillin, derived from Penicillium spp., being a prime example.
Ascomycota are characterized by the presence of an ascus, a cell in which two compatible haploid gametes form a diploid nucleus followed by meiosis and the production of four pairs of haploid ascospores.
Sordaria fimicola (x400)
This image shows S. fimicola ascospores (right) externalised from the perithecium (left). S. fimicola is commonly found in the dung of herbivorous animals. S. fimicola is often used to demonstrate genetic principles of inheritance: in a wild type/ mutant cross, the colour of the ascospores provides information about the the nature of crossing over during meiosis.
Daldinia concentrica (x400)
Also known as King Alfred's Cakes, or cramp balls, Daldinia concentrica is a saprotrophic fungus ubiquitous throughout our woodlands. This image shows an ascus, containing eight ascospores, that has been cut from the surface of the fruiting body using a scalpel.
Neurospora crassa (x40)
Branching hyphae of Neurospora crassa. Like S. fimicola (above), N. crassa is also a model organism in molecular biology because its haploid life cycle makes it amenable to genetic manipulation and the expression of recessive traits.
Fruiting body of Daldinia concentrica, also known as cramp balls or King Alfred's Cakes. Image courtesy of Dr Gordon Beakes © University of Newcastle upon Tyne taken from Bioscience ImageBank.
Penicillium camemberti growing on malt extract agar.
Penicillium camemberti (x400)
The asexual structure of Penicillium camemberti which forms the white crust on cheeses such as brie and camembert.
Dead man's fingers is a common plant pathogen and can easily be found growing on dead/ decaying trees in woodland. The fruiting body is white on the inside, but black on the outside due to its dark perithecia containing the asci. Image courtesy of Mr Ken Redshaw © taken from Bioscience ImageBank.
This ascomycete fungus, also known as White saddle, or Elfin saddle, can be easily identified by its irregular shaped cap. It can be found near deciduous trees in Europe and eastern North America in autumn and summer.