Mold, also spelled mould, refers to a type of fungus that proliferates as multicellular threads known as hyphae, a distinct characteristic that separates it from yeasts, which can adopt a single-celled growth habit. Mold species are diverse and numerous, often identifiable by the discolored, fuzzy appearance they produce, especially on food items.
This network of tubular branching hyphae, termed as mycelium, is considered a single organism. While individual hyphae are generally transparent, the collective mycelium manifests as very fine, fluffy white threads over the surface. The hyphae may be divided into compartments by cross-walls or septa, each harboring one or several genetically identical nuclei.
Molds are also known for their spore production, which results in a dusty texture. The formation and shape of these spores is a traditional classification determinant for molds. Many of these spores are colored, which makes the fungus more noticeable to the human eye during this stage of its life cycle.
Molds, while considered a type of microbe, do not form a specific taxonomic or phylogenetic group but are commonly found within the Zygomycota and Ascomycota divisions. Historically, many molds were classified within the Deuteromycota.
Molds are a double-edged sword for humans; they play crucial roles in biotechnology and food science, facilitating the production of various foods, beverages, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals and enzymes. However, they can also be detrimental, causing biodegradation of natural materials that result in spoilage or property damage. Certain molds can cause diseases in animals and humans, either through allergic reactions to mold spores, from the growth of pathogenic molds within the body, or from the effects of toxic compounds, known as mycotoxins, produced by molds.
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