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This is about science produced by the California Institute of Technology and originally broadcast by station KPP C. Pasadena California. The programs are made available to the station by national educational radio. This program is about fungi with host Dr. Peter less a man and his guest Dr. James Harvey. Here now is Dr. Leslie Mann. If there is one thing in the world that almost always with us everywhere it's the fungus and sort of like our unwelcome relatives the front guy paparazzi everywhere even when least expected. Do you recall a crust of bread left unattended too long or the overripe fruit. Corner later when we finally take notice they look as if they've sprouted hair or are covered with a fluffy powdery dust. We refer to them as having become moldy. The mold of course is our ever present companion the fungus the scientist who studies the life
and times of fungi. It's called a mycologist. His laboratory is filled with flasks test tubes and petri dishes. Most of them containing samples of fun guy isolated for study. A logical question is why the fun guy tend to attack clothes food and other items. The mycologist through work in his laboratory has learnt that fungus can't manufacture their own food. That fund our dependence on other sources for organic compounds. And of course a scientist is always looking for ways to put this hunger for organic compounds to work or else he's looking for another way to starve the fungus to death to deprive it of its food source. Our guest now is mycologist Dr. James Harvey who is a project scientist working in cow takes Environmental Health Engineering Laboratory. Dr. Harvey has been engaged for years in the study of destructive modes and is now working on a project to put some types of models to
work purifying water. His work is supported by the federal water pollution control administration. And now Dr. Harvey can you tell me just what a fungus is to start. Well the animal plant or what. Perhaps the best way to define it is to describe it in general miles East sometime mineral use in L.A. everyone is familiar with mildew closing. My shrooms puffballs. Also there are plant diseases Rusks recrossed Snapdragon Rast smites the very name smut indicates that there's a silly looking growth that occurs on plants. There are also human micro sees diseases caused by Fungi. So what really however is the structure of a fungus. Doctor how Congress is maybe it defined farther as a
plant that has no leaves it has no Stanwood has no roots is a very fine thread like growth that occurs on the substratum that is on the order plate on the apple or on the bread or on the server so broke in the jar or what have you. Also in cheese the bluish and greenish growths that occur on cheese in the refrigerator even though cold are good examples of moles or fungi. So we think that a fine guy really who is as you say a vegetable like thing a very very simple type of plant. Where do you find fun guy doctor. Well just about everywhere. We look in the soil for them. We look in water. Spores get into the air. So we find them in the air. Now actually we don't think of them as living in the air but their spores are certainly carried by air currents and when you open your fridge rater door. The spores are free to enter or. If you're working in the yard
you start them up. You find them in a compost heap and you find a man good soil any art otherwise. I was interested in your point about the refrigerator door. Can they survive inside if refrigerator quite a few of them. Well not only survive but reproduce. All one has to know is Cheney's freshman's that come moldy. Now this doesn't particularly hurt the Chinese but moles under some conditions might be detrimental. Also one will notice a bluish mole inside a car on lemons and on oranges even in the refrigerator. They are true. They go slowly there but they do multiply. So I expect from that that we find them in the in the Arctic regions of the U.S. as well as the tropical region well as I understand from people who have been to those areas searching for lower forms of life. They do find something akin to moles. Well that's very interesting so these moments can live at very low temperatures how
about high temperatures. Well there are those that live a much higher temperatures than you normally find around the home and out a matter of fact these models have to be cultured at higher temperatures in a laboratory for instance take bacteria related to fungi. Most bacteria as we grow them in the laboratory grown at a higher temperature than room temperature. There are many fungi will grow at that temperature. But most fungi I would say live at ordinary temperature as we call it room temperature. And of course in warm weather they're more plentiful in the soil for instance more active than coal. And although we do find plants growing in cold areas cold atmosphere cold climate. They're not as numerous or as active as they are at ordinary temperatures. So I see pointing out front guy pretty well ubiquitous. We find them whatever the globe we find on the water we find
them in the Arctic regions in the tropical regions but like man they seem to thrive best under moderate temperature right. And I might say also that they have found in the ocean degrading organic material in the ocean. How big are these funny guy dwellers. They range from small microscopic size to large puffballs. I've seen puff balls as large as an ordinary water bucket or sometimes they can be as large as a small tub. And course the housewife is familiar with the fungi that she buy on the market. Mushrooms so mushrooms can grow to be six inches across the cap. Much of a fungus take an occasional mushroom or the puff ball and much of the fungus is actually underground. The thread like body structure branching. Mycelium we call it that infest leaders who leaf mold that is and which
sorrow. And. So there we find microscopic structures or you know we have the large body which we see we call the mushroom where possible. I'm interested in your comment upon the rush for him as a funny guy probably the best known one because I had the impression that the final fun guy was a simple amorphous sort of pottery things and yet the mushroom has a very definite structure you know as you might think of the mice from the body as being composed of a very tightly knitted together a wound branching fibers I suppose that's a good way to describe the mycelium and producing spores underneath a cap on structures we call Gills the spores themselves are powdery and of course a single My Sharona the size of a dollar across or a little larger can be as millions of spores. So you do find your microscopic details even in the mushroom.
I see. Is there anything is there any fungus analogous to the mushroom that lives under water. Point I can't think of one right now. I think I'd have thought maybe you would suggest that many of the very same as I said and so happens that the. The fungi which live on decaying seaweed indicating daybreak in the water are really more a mood like the kind that we find in the refrigerator. I see now Dr. Harvey we talked about where to find I aren't roughly what this size is and you've mentioned one or two different colors is there any specific set of colors that we associate with the fungi. Well if you were to visit my laboratory I would show you many many colors all the colors of the rainbow. We will find green molds blue mold black mold red moldy Alamos white moles all the gradations between a few species might show similar gradations of
color during their growth period I see. So we find the fungi have every possible color you can think of and of course I'm thinking about some of the more exotic mushrooms which have different colors in the different areas on them. Well if one goes out into the forest where there's a let Rich leaf mold he will see my shrooms of many types and they likewise display quite a bit of coloration yellows rads greens Elan. As a matter of fact color is very often one of the criteria for helping to determine the type of no one mushroom as the case may be not always finite but at least useful I see so we're getting somewhere into the field about what find us. Find I are where they are found how big they are what color they are not what about the kind of life cycle of the fungus whether they live on how do they get this
food. Well a mushroom not being able to manufacture its carbohydrate fode. Has to depend upon sources of carbon like will say shovels and starches and proteins for their nourishment. They sometimes can utilize mineral compounds otherwise once they get to basic carbohydrate nitrate substances. We don't know too much about the physiology of my shroom with respect to nitrogen. It's a changing of ammonia nitrate and nitrate alone you know. Or likewise the breakdown of sulfates to hydrogen sulfide and vice versa but we do know that fungi play some part in reducing these substances. You might say that the role of the fungus in nature is to reduce organic material to its native components. So those materials might again be used by growing plants and of course bacteria
enter into this picture also. As a matter of fact we know more about bacteria ever do about fungi was in respect to these biochemical activities. OK Harvey you said that the five guy are not able to manufacture their own food. How does that differ from for example an ordinary clone but an ordinary green plant want to contains Kora Faile can take carbon dioxide out of the air and water out of the soil. And unite these two stirring up energy from the sunlight and we get our simple carbohydrates also from the soil we get night Trojan compounds we get of the mango compounds that are combined with these carbon hydrogen and oxygen substances. So the plant body is built up and of course and all of this process oxygen is given up as a byproduct. But I'd point out also that although plant green plants absorb carbon dioxide and manufacture food and give up oxygen that they have to breed
into like all other organisms so they may use some of that back again. Now fungi. Are not able to utilize carbon dioxide so they have to get their carbohydrate from an already manufactured source. And of course they carry on their oxidation activities the same as any other organism. I think it's so important thing about them is that they are able to break down these sources and that's provided for turning the elements back to right. And it worked for that. Why Kitty fungi and bacteria do we would have 0 0 9 0 0 0 components elemental components necessary for life tied up in bodies of some kind of living or dead. How many kinds of fungus father you have. Well it's very difficult to say because they are thousands of specie is take the ordinary blue and green Mose one fine in a refrigerator say belonging to the genus Penicillium. They're probably I think they're described at the present time some something like 137
species we probably don't ever see over two or three of these at a time. Take another genus Asper tell us they are describe some 69 species that is those that are recognized now by the mycologists being standard and of course many are many many other models and there are some that are rare some that are very plentiful. You're talk about the genus Penicillium And that brings me right up to what I wanted to talk about which I want us a lot of some of the constructive uses of fungi. Well when I spent a Penicillium the first thing we think of is a drug penicillin of the antibiotic. You know the antibiotics also but I think kind of still in the sight of its purpose it is a substance produced by the fungus shall we say to keep old fibroid off the encroachment of other organisms in the soil fungus organisms or
bacterial organisms so that they can have plenty of room to grow. That is a rather simple way to put it because it's not quite that simple. But antibiotics would be one prominent use of fungi. And there are about two species of kind of cellular used consistently in the production of that particular antibiotic. And what about the old fermented kitchen yeast. How well the kitchen. Yeast of course is that it is a fungus. It's an interesting fungus. People have known of the products of unease for 5000 years because alcohol and wine and wine especially has been around for an awfully long time. And a matter of fact he says it's found in the soils. Now one might lie. And oh well what about the alcohol put up her body in the soil. Well there is some and I might add that as fast as the alcohol is produced it strand in the organic acids by still other organisms. Now one is not doesn't expect to go out in the backyard they will squeeze alcohol out of the soil but has been around with us for a long time and
when the wife makes her bread and she was yeast in the bread she is carrying on a custom it's been on for a long time because as a sales multiply and break down some of the servers are in the red carbon dioxide given off of course bread rises. The product alcohol that might be manufactured of course was some of the last of the cooking of the product so we feed that to of Mann's oldest Staples bread and wine. Both depend a century on the fungus. Least in their production. Now what about some of the unfavorable aspects of well there are unfavorable activities of yeast athlete's foot as a yeast owes its existence to an East like fungus than I. There are other human diseases during war and as a human disease in their San Joaquin Valley Fever which Californians know about which is a common disease
in the farming areas of San Joaquin Valley which farmers pick up rather readily. As a matter of fact it is thought that San Joaquin people might be more widely spread than it used to be. But because perhaps we have been able to make better diagnoses and watch them while you have the outbreak here in the Los Angeles area. That's very interesting that there is a named Freedom that's spread by Fungi could use a little more about the San Joaquin Phoenix. Well I have not had much press time what with San Joaquin Valley fever myself I worked histoplasmosis which is like a disease caused by yeast like fungus that gets into the blood and into the bloodstream. In fact what we might speak of as well of the. Well say the blood tissue is going to lungs and all as a matter of fact the San Joaquin Valley Fever and histoplasmosis both can mimic TB sometimes
tuberculosis and they cause a considerable. Consternation to those who are trying to diagnose these things of course diagnoses now are better than say they were five years ago or 10 years ago and were beginning to differentiate these things out. But then of course they are in the forms. Then the other Michael sees some of them very bad eyes. And so we see then that many impressions can be caused by fungus and of course we have the old ordinary housewives bane which is just modeled on organic materials and all sorts. And when we're speaking of the depredations of fungi we must not overlook plant diseases. Well perhaps one of the best known would be wheat rust and then the wheat growing belts who are familiar with what a cross can do to wheat plants and there are many other diseases but time of course going to that. So we've seen something about rock pandai are how they are one of the
good things we can do with them and one of the bad things that Dr. Harvey what about your work at the moment with fungus. Well let me say. Offhand that among the good phases of fungal activity would be the of course we've heard of the breakdown of organic material. So in this soil we think forests of soil enrichment there are many fungi in the soil that continue the breaking down organic matter to release the elements and make them available again to green plants. So the cycles go on. And I and I work involving the role of fungi and a breakdown of waste water or so is water if you play is keep in mind that so its water is heavily laden with all kinds of organic materials from the home and from the factory and from many commercial industries. And I suppose DAYBREAK gets washed into the gutter and into the drain also bear some organic material. So here you have an environment in which there
are just about any kind of a fungus that wants to grow. So in our work at Cal Tech we've been taking core samples from an area known as way in the iris which is a test basin operated by. The laboratories the environmental. Center laboratories headed by Dr. McKee. We take these carvings we bring the samples in the lab we run them through the processes that we think best to isolate the fungus. We might say put the somersault underwater suspension in school. Colder that water suspension through a membrane filter of known pours size and pick up the spores various kinds of spores and we played these out on different kinds of media auger. Now as you look on like material when it's you know a solution hot it's viscous.
Well it's poured into a plate of Daish and allowed to harden on calling it if it hardens so that we can play our friend out on that or we could put drops of water containing the fungal spores into these dishes and pour slightly warmer Harbor into it and when it melts and when it solidifies. The fungal spores germinate and you have actually been identifying fungi in the sewage disposal. I will say that we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 species of fungi that we have taken out of this particular basin and some of course have appeared more abundantly than others. And you say wanted to Penicillin I wanted to ask but I wanted to check the damages they appear most in great abundance and we began to assume what we are whether we attach significance to that. And we want to find out just exactly what these fungi are attacking in the story which have been known for a long time that
this is a comparatively new science. Only a few years in fact. I suppose I'm one of very few individuals who are working in this area. And while it might make me happy to see my name in the rhetoric here of those colleagues who are working with it some time is a little disturbing to find out that not much is known of the ways I can't go to any source for this information so I have to dig it out. Piecemeal from what literature there is on the subject. So you're really on your own here this is a new field not much work has been dying left right and everybody is dependent on the one or two researchers who are interested in the field. However it looks as though there might be a very great promise for for a lot of purification. Well I think the read has because keep in mind that there are many things to be found in waste water good food materials for these organisms. Now we've known for
some time that bacteria can do a tremendous job at reducing these substances to their simpler compounds for instance ammonium compounds oxidation oxidized ultimata nitrate compounds. Then we have. Software compounds which oxidase oxidized ultimately to solve face and so forth and vice versa. In other words the reduction is occurring but apparently there have been some phenomenal that the bacteria don't quite explain. And so. Perhaps the bacteria and the plant work together in what we call a synergistic fashion or perhaps I'd better say it's symbiotic. Fashion Could you explain what sort of just it means talk of having. Well let's first explain the word symbiotic. The word symbiosis applies to two organisms living together a man and a wife sort of yes I think that would be a pretty good illustration. Now symbiosis also has its parasitic aspects
but I should apply that to the idea that a lot of the time that I would stick to the facts. Yes but the same goes the same players mutual benefits and of course at that ideal in the subject would just mention then we have finally we have pairs such as I'm not going to case a pathogens human pathogens a plant pathogen animal pathogens. I suppose the most powerful example of symbiosis would be alike and one sees going on rocks or hanging down from tree like moss and like it is composed of a fungus and I'll go living together and it is usually stated that the album being able to manufacture food manufactures the organic put in from this gets it gets its food then from the algo. But in turn supplies algo with all materials which it absorbs from the Iraq war and the tree trunk market where it's growing. So there you have a mutual benefit. Now synergism I believe is a term used to
describe a product that is produced by two or three organisms living together that could not be produced alone by any one singly I think and simple terms that working as a team to the right. So it was and I worked at Woody and Iris with containers isolating bacteria. Well we keep them in culture. Anyone who wants those bacteria and we find some very common ones and we find someone you know who will and in fact we find a group known as slime bacteria which you know not many people say know much about a care to work with them was the end of the picture somewhere but then of course along with that we do keep our cultures playing Jai. And it is thought that in time when we make some inoculation studies we can do so. Right now we are growing and we are running some of the effluent from the areas they waste water to bend all the solids have been taken
out. We're running that effluent through sand columns at Cal Tech. 18 inches of sand sand the stero to begin with. So we've been dosing those daily with about one later that is a little over a quart of liquid. And then after about six weeks of that we began coring that sand to find out what fungi have a present and we found some of the same ones that we have found in the soil that would be an iris. As eye goes. Well began adding no substance to these columns and then again to check some of the biochemical activities against the sponge. So you think the time will come when we will be able to grow I run fine guy and treat what appears a cation problem by dwelling on the rock found I never started to be a long time. Hope now actually. But we're never sure what really where research is going to later say as you well know. But this would be one hope perhaps that we might
actually find find help speed up their donation. So and in a nutshell than Dr. Harvey. That is the task that you are trying to do is to look at these fungi and to see how they can speed up their condition. That's right and I suppose if the Pitkin was a model that I heard once upon a time I still use nature never shouts her secrets aloud but oh always whispers of them. Thank you very much. Well that presents us with a pretty good picture of what a family thing is what it does what it does to us and some ways in which we may do something with it. And it's interesting too that rather we fight fungus tooth and nail on graft food in clothes we readily put fungus to use in the form of yeast which makes millions but most basic foods bread and wine and many other products. It was surprising to learn that these little things which grow in such great profusion are the simplest form of plant and in many many colors. It does seem odd that
About science
About fungi
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California Institute of Technology
KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program focuses on the field of mycology.
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Interview series on variety of science-related subjects, produced by the California Institute of Technology. Features three Cal Tech faculty members: Dr. Peter Lissaman, Dr. Albert R. Hibbs, and Dr. Robert Meghreblian.
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Guest: Harvey, James
Host: Hibbs, Albert R.
Producing Organization: California Institute of Technology
Producing Organization: KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
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University of Maryland
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