The Fungi (2nd edition)
By Michael J Carlisle, Sarah C Watkinson & Graham W Gooday. 588 + xix pages. San Diego, CA, USA: Academic Press, 2001. $75 h/b ISBN 0 12 738445 6, $45 p/b ISBN 0 12 738446 4
The organisms studied by mycologists currently number approx. 77 000 known species from three Kingdoms, the Protozoa, Chromista and Fungi. To bring together in one volume an introductory, but substantial overview of this enormous and diverse group of organisms is a challenging task. This generally well written book provides a highly readable review of fungal groups and their activities, aimed at undergraduate students (there is a glossary of common mycological terms and there are multiple choice questions at the ends of chapters). It covers fungal taxonomy, growth, reproduction, genetic variation and evolution, functioning in ecosystems, parasitism and symbiosis, and use in biotechnology. The text is uncluttered, since no references are cited, but this does inevitably make it more difficult for students to follow-up reading about specific topics, since the chapter bibliographies are quite extensive.
A significant criticism of the first edition was the limited reference to molecular analysis of fungal taxonomy, and molecular studies of fungal functioning. The book is now significantly expanded, and gained a third author: Graham Gooday. A slightly greater emphasis on molecular studies is indeed now achieved. However, the new edition is not a re-write – it retains the original structure and most of the original text. A more comprehensive revision would have been preferable.
The opportunity to grab the reader’s attention through figures is largely missed. There are few really exciting images and some are very poorly chosen – not providing clear enough illustrations of the features they are supposed to show. The majority of the figures in the first edition have been retained, but many have been reduced in size and the quality of reproduction is often reduced. There are very few figures that present new findings or discoveries since the earlier edition. Even some new colour plates are lack-lustre and small. Many of the figures have no scale and a surprisingly large proportion of the electron micrographs lack annotations thereby reducing their clarity, particularly to an undergraduate audience. Electron micrographs of arbuscular and ectomycorrhizas include the use of ‘endotrophic’ and ‘ectotrophic’– terminology deemed inappropriate nearly 20 yr ago.
The text commences with a brief introduction to fungi as a major group of organisms, and goes on to provide an overview of fungal diversity with descriptions of the major groups and selected examples of their lifecycles. As in the first edition the authors focus their greatest attention on fungi that have been most intensively studied in the laboratory and those used in biotechnology such as Neurospora crassa and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This has inevitably meant that many of the fungi that are important in natural environments are given little attention – such as the arbuscular-mycorrhiza-forming fungi, and the growth of fungi in natural substrates is not adequately covered. Despite these criticisms, the text presents a useful brief introduction to the main environmental factors that affect fungal growth, including aeration, carbon sources, nitrogen and other major and trace nutrients, vitamins and growth factors, pH, temperature and light. There is new information on hydrogenosomes, microbodies and vacuoles.
In covering ‘spores, dormancy and dispersal’ there is exclusive emphasis on spores as propagules and as a means of dispersal of fungi. It describes the initiation of sporulation, different types of spores and their mechanisms of liberation and dispersal, spore dormancy and germination. The chapter covering ‘Saprotrophs and Ecosystems’ has undergone a welcome and extensive revision and expansion. The new version has been reorganised with a new section on assemblages of fungi and successions on substrates and a useful section on environmental change and fungal conservation. ‘Parasites and mutualistic symbionts’ has also undergone major revision, especially with new text dealing with applications of molecular techniques.
The final chapter provides a very useful overview of the major processes involving fungal biotechnology and fungal products. It explains the role of fungi in foods and beverages, including bread-making, cheeses, edible fungi, mycoprotein, fermented foods and alcoholic beverages. The contribution of fungi to the manufacture of products such as citric acid, industrial alcohol, and the importance of fungal-products in medicine (antibiotics and pharmaceuticals) and agrochemical production are described. This chapter is one of the most interesting in the book, and certainly has an immediate relevance and appeal to students – particularly in explaining beer and wine fermentations!
Overall, there have been significant improvements to the book, especially where the text deals with fungi in the world outside the laboratory. However, although it provides a very useful and clear explanation of the principles of some of the major molecular techniques used in fungal biology, the new edition could have gone further in demonstrating the successful application of molecular methods, both in ecological studies of fungi that are not readily cultured in the laboratory and in biotechnology. The whole of the last paragraph of the final chapter remains as written in 1994 – it is disappointing that the progress made in fungal biology during the 7 yr following are not more fully reflected in the text.