Mycologists study mushrooms and other fungi. Like plants and animals, fungi
are one of the major kingdoms of organisms.
Linda Kohn is president of the Mycological Society of America. She says
mycologists might be working as taxonomists (that is, classifying fungi).
Or they might be studying the physiology of fungi, the genetics of fungi,
fungal cell biology or the evolution of environmental health fungi.
"For example, there is a fungal component in 'sick building syndrome.'
Other mycologists specialize in air quality and fungi. Some mycologists are
self-employed consultants who consult with school districts, hospitals or
private home owners regarding air quality."
There are research groups devoted to using fungi as a system for producing
compounds in genetically engineered organisms.
Other mycologists might work in the area of plant health. "Fungi are the
major cause of plant disease. Mycologists are looking for ways to improve
crops and to produce crops that are resistant to fungal disease," says Kohn.
Other people study medical mycology, examining fungal disease and allergies
in humans. For example, you can study aging in humans, but there are limits
to the experiments you can do. Since yeast and humans have similar cell processes,
you can use yeast to study biological processes.
"Some mycologists are involved in industrial processes. Fungi produce huge
quantities of enzymes that are economically useful. Fungi are being used for
things like whitening paper without [the] use of bleaches. This allows us
to produce paper in a less polluting way," adds Kohn.
People who work in breweries or in winemaking are also practicing mycology.
"Anybody who uses yeast commercially is a kind of a mycologist," says Kohn.
"Then there are people who grow mushrooms commercially. Cottage industries
are springing up where people collect wild mushrooms and sell them to gourmet
restaurants and food retailers."