CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Fungal Kingdom

Edited by Joseph Heitman, Barbara J. Howlett, Pedro W. Crous, Eva H. Stukenbrock, Timothy Y. James, & Neil A.R. Gow
2017, American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC
ISBN-10: 1555819575; ISBN-13: 978-1555819576; e-ISBN: 9781555819583
DOI: 10.1128/9781555819583
Hardback, 1160 pages
8.8 x 2 x 11.2 inches; 6.3 pounds

I’m frequently asked to recommend mycological books. Field guides to mushrooms of a particular geographic region, naturally. But I’m also asked about textbooks, by those wanting to learn about fungi beyond memorization of basidiomycete fruitbodies (and whether you can eat them). This review will drop a few names of favorite titles, but will mostly discuss the massive new compendium of mycology which recently arrived on my doorstep with a thud.

My first mycological text of any sort was The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff. I was given this book when I was a kid and used it nearly incessantly. I have no idea where that copy is; I’ve since gone through several additional copies. As a college student, I immersed myself in Introductory Mycology by Alexopoulos and Mims (more recently Meredith Blackwell has become a third author), and Agrios’s Plant Pathology. For a mycology student there were not really many choices. By the time I became a university professor, the choices had increased somewhat; I continued to use the previous titles but added Bryce Kendrick’s wonderful The Fifth Kingdom to my students’ required reading. Still, pretty much all mycological texts required a collegelevel understanding of the subject, and thus off-putting to the majority of mycophiles. Just in the past decade a number of new mycological titles have been added so that nowadays there is something for everyone from rote beginner, advanced “amateur” mycologist or citizen scientist, to academic employing molecular tools for research. My favorite book for beginners (or anyone really) wanting to learn interesting snippets about all groups of fungi (and with fantastic photographs), with concise, approachable language is The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens Petersen (2012, Princeton University Press). This book has it all and is really affordable. For more advanced mycophiles or those wanting a great desk reference for pretty much all mycological topics, my favorite has become Introduction to Fungi by Webster and Weber (2009, Cambridge University Press). This book is laid out much like Alexopoulos and Mims, but with much added information (and comes in at 800 pages).

When it arrived, I had assumed that the massive, thousand-page The Fungal Kingdom published by ASM Press was to be the be-all, end-all of mycology texts. It is … and it isn’t. Indeed, I’m not sure who the audience is for this book.

This is definitely not a book for beginners. This book is not small. This book is comprehensive, up to date, and an academic mycological reference book for the Molecular Era. Fungal research and knowledge has grown rapidly following recent advances in genetics and genomics. This book synthesizes new knowledge with existing information to stimulate new scientific questions and propel fungal scientists on to the next stages of research and covers all topics pertaining to fungi: environmental sensing, genetics, genomics, interactions with microbes, plants, insects, and humans, technological applications, and natural product development. And it should be pointed out that the reading can be a bit dry, though each of the 54 chapters is amply supported with excellent color illustrations. And there are plenty of references cited at the end of each chapter. But each chapter reads like a scientific review paper in a journal and I’m not sure anyone other than someone specialized in the field might be interested.

The chapters are arranged in the following nine sections: Part I. Fungal Branches On The Eukaryotic Tree Of Life: Chap. 1, The Fungal Tree of Life: From Molecular Systematics to Genome-Scale Phylogenies; Chap. 2, Six Key Traits of Fungi: Their Evolutionary Origins and Genetic Bases; Chap. 3, What Defines the “Kingdom” Fungi?; Chap. 4, Fungal Diversity Revisited: 2.2 to 3.8 Million Species; Chap. 5, Microsporidia: Obligate Intracellular Pathogens Within the Fungal Kingdom.

Part II. Life Of Fungi: Chap. 6, Fungal Sex: The Ascomycota; Chap. 7, Fungal Sex: The Basidiomycota; Chap. 8, Fungal Sex: The Mucoromycota; Chap. 9, Sex and the Imperfect Fungi; Chap. 10, Molecular Mechanisms Regulating Cell Fusion and Heterokaryon Formation in Filamentous Fungi; Chap. 11, Cell Biology of Hyphal Growth; Chap. 12, The Fungal Cell Wall: Structure, Biosynthesis, and Function; Chap. 13, Fungal Ecology: Principles and Mechanisms of Colonization and Competition by Saprotrophic Fungi; Chap. 14, Long- Distance Dispersal of Fungi; Chap. 15, The Mycelium as a Network.

 Part III. Fungal Ecology: Chap. 16, The Geomycology of Elemental Cycling and Transformations in the Environment; Chap. 17, Ecology of Fungal Plant Pathogens; Chap. 18, Key Ecological Roles for Zoosporic True Fungi in Aquatic Habitats.

Part IV. How Fungi Sense Their Environment: Chap. 19, Nutrient Sensing at the Plasma Membrane of Fungal Cells; Chap. 20, The Complexity of Fungal Vision; Chap. 21, Stress Adaptation; Chap. 22, Thigmo Responses: The Fungal Sense of Touch; Chap. 23, Melanin, Radiation, and Energy Transduction in Fungi; Chap. 24, Making Time: Conservation of Biological Clocks from Fungi to Animals; Chap. 25, Target of Rapamycin (TOR) Regulates Growth in Response to Nutritional Signals.

 Part V. Fungal Genetics And Genomics As Models For Biology: Chap. 26, Fungal Cell Cycle: A Unicellular versus Multicellular Comparison; Chap. 27, A Matter of Scale and Dimensions: Chromatin of Chromosome Landmarks in the Fungi; Chap. 28, Ploidy Variation in Fungi: Polyploidy, Aneuploidy, and Genome Evolution; Chap. 29, Fungal Genomes and Insights into the Evolution of the Kingdom; Chap. 30, Sources of Fungal Genetic Variation and Associating It with Phenotypic Diversity; Chap. 31, RNA Interference in Fungi: Retention and Loss; Chap. 32, Amyloid Prions in Fungi; Chap. 33, Repeat- Induced Point Mutation and Other Genome Defense Mechanisms in Fungi.

Part VI. Fungal Interactions With Plants: Impact On Agriculture And The Biosphere: Chap. 34, Plant Pathogenic Fungi; Chap. 35, The Mutualistic Interaction between Plants and Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi; Chap. 36, Lichenized Fungi and the Evolution of Symbiotic Organization; Chap. 37, Fungal Plant Pathogenesis Mediated by Effectors; Chap. 38, Emerging Fungal Threats to Plants and Animals Challenge Agriculture and Ecosystem Resilience.

Part VII. Fungi And The Human Host: Chap. 39, Fungi that Infect Humans; Chap. 40, The Mycobiome: Impact on Health and Disease States; Chap. 41, Skin Fungi from Colonization to Infection; Chap. 42, Fungal Biofilms: Inside Out; Chap. 43, Fungal Recognition and Host Defense Mechanisms; Chap. 44, Antifungal Drugs: The Current Armamentarium and Development of New Agents.

Part VIII. Fungal Interactions With Animals (Fungi, Insects, And Nematodes) And Other Microbes: Chap. 45, The Insect Pathogens; Chap. 46, Made for Each Other: Ascomycete Yeasts and Insects; Chap. 47, Nematode-Trapping Fungi; Chap. 48, Host-Microsporidia Interactions in Caenorhabditis elegans, a Model Nematode Host; Chap. 49, Bacterial Endosymbionts: Master Modulators of Fungal Phenotypes; Chap. 50, Necrotrophic Mycoparasites and Their Genomes.

Part IX. Fungi: Technology And Natural Products: Chap. 51, Fungal Enzymes and Yeasts for Conversion of Plant Biomass to Bioenergy and High-Value Products; Chap. 52, Fungal Ligninolytic Enzymes and Their Applications; Chap. 53, Fungi as a Source of Food; Chap. 54, Biologically Active Secondary Metabolites from the Fungi.

The authors should be commended for the monumental work amount of work that went into producing this book, the result of four years and many dozens of contributors. They explain that the time was right for such a book in the Preface: “Given the rapidly advancing fields of fungal genetics and genomics, and mycology more generally, we increasingly found ourselves in need of a compendium to organize this information and to serve as a reference to guide both our own efforts and those of others whose research focuses on or interfaces with fungi. We have assembled a team of six editors with complementary and diverse interests and enlisted a cadre of 170 experts in the field who as authors have contributed the 54 chapters that comprise The Fungal Kingdom. We have organized the book into nine different sections to present related material together and provide a framework for organization. Each chapter is designed to be self-contained, such that any reader may choose to read any given chapter in isolation or a series of related chapters from one section. At the same time, the book has a coherent theme of focusing on the diversity, importance, impact, dangers, and beauty of the fungi and could therefore be read as a continuous text. As modes of publication have advanced, this book is also an experiment in that it is available as a hard copy printed volume, as an electronic book, and as individual chapters available electronically or in their published form as part of the Microbiology Spectrum journal from ASM Press.”

The Fungal Kingdom is an amazing body of work. But as stated, I’m not sure who the audience is, the price is not cheap (though when you think of the amount of paper involved, it’s probably a pretty good value), and I’m not sure how well it will sell

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi