The fungi ... are progressive, ever changing and evolving rapidly in their own way, so that they are capable of becoming adapted to every condition of life. We may rest assured that as green plants and animals disappear one by one from the face of the globe, some of the fungi will always be present to dispose of the last remains.
A type of growth in mushroom fungi (Basidiomycotina) occasionally seen in pastures or grasslands is known as the "fairy ring" (Figure 14.1). It refers to a circular development of aerial fruiting bodies (basidiocarps). According to a myth, the circular pattern of basidiocarps represents the path of fairies dancing in the night. Actually, the fairy ring develops from the perennial, subterranean mycelium that extends outwards and produces ephemeral fruit bodies year after year in the shape of a ring. From the rate of expansion of the diameter of these fairy rings, the age of the mycelium in some cases is estimated to be several hundred years old. In Chapter 1, we learned about a colony of Armillaria bulbosa that is more than a millennium old. Fungi are therefore regarded as potentially immortal organisms. Their immortal nature is manifested by their continuous propagation by transfer of a small amount of vegetative mycelium to agar medium. Infrequently, however, some fungi deteriorate and die upon subculturing. These strains provide valuable material for investigating mechanisms in aging and death.
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