Molds (or moulds, see spelling differences) include all species of microscopic fungi that grow in the form of multicellular filaments, called hyphae. In contrast, microscopic fungi that grow as single cells are called yeasts. A connected network of these tubular branching hyphae has the same DNA and is considered a single organism, referred to as a colony or in more technical terms a mycelium.
Molds do not form a specific taxonomic or phylogenetic grouping, but can be found in the divisions Zygomycota, Deuteromycota and Ascomycota. Although some molds cause disease or food spoilage, others are useful for their role in biodegradation or in the production of various foods, beverages, antibiotics and enzymes.
There are thousands of known species of molds, which include opportunistic pathogens, exclusive saprotrophs, aquatic species and thermophiles. Like all fungi, molds derive energy not through photosynthesis but from the organic matter on which they live. Typically, molds secrete hydrolytic enzymes from predominantly the hyphal tips. These enzymes degrade complex biopolymers such as starch, cellulose and lignin into simpler substances which can enter the hyphae. In this way, molds play a major role in causing decomposition of organic material, enabling the recycling of nutrients throughout ecosystems. Many molds also secrete mycotoxins which, together with hydrolytic enzymes, inhibit the growth of competing microorganisms.
Molds reproduce through small spores. Mold spores can be asexual (the products of mitosis) or sexual (the products of meiosis), and many species can produce both types. They may contain a single nucleus or many. Some can remain airborne indefinitely, and many are able to survive extremes of temperature and pressure.
Although molds grow on dead organic matter everywhere in nature, their presence is only visible to the unaided eye when mold colonies grow. A mold colony does not comprise discrete organisms, but an interconnected network of hyphae called a mycelium. Nutrients and in some cases organelles may be transported throughout the mycelium. In artificial environments like buildings, humidity and temperature are often stable enough to foster the growth of mold colonies, commonly seen as a downy or furry coating growing on food or surfaces.
Some mold can begin growing at temperatures as low as 2°C. When conditions do not enable growth, molds can remain alive in a dormant state, within a large range of temperatures before they die. This explains how molds can survive harsh conditions such as containers in refrigerators or inside building structure cavities.
Xerophilic molds use the humidity in the air as their only water source; other molds need more moisture.
The koji molds are a group of Aspergillus species, notably Aspergillus oryzae, that have been cultured in eastern Asia for many centuries. They are used to ferment a soybean and wheat mixture to make soybean paste and soy sauce. They are also used to break down the starch in rice (saccharification) in the production of sake and other distilled spirits.
Molds excrete liquids or gases as defecatory matter; not all can be detected by smell. Some molds generate toxic liquid or gaseous compounds, called mycotoxins. Molds that produce mycotoxins are sometimes referred to as toxic molds. Of these molds, some only produce mycotoxins under specific growing conditions. Mycotoxins are harmful or lethal to humans and animals when exposure is high enough.
Dermatophytes are the parasitic fungi that cause skin infections such as Athlete's foot and Jock Itch. Most dermataphyte fungi take the form of a mold, as opposed to a yeast, with appearance (when cultured) that is similar to other molds.
Growth in buildings
Mold growth in buildings can lead to variety of health issues. Various practices can be followed to mitigate mold growth in buildings.
- Madigan M; Martinko J (editors). (2005). Brock Biology of Microorganisms (11th ed. ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 0131443291.
- Ryan KJ; Ray CG (editors) (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology (4th ed. ed.). McGraw Hill. pp. pp. 633–8. ISBN 0838585299.