Deuteromycota: The Imperfect Fungi

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify characteristics and examples of fungi in the informal group Deuteromycota

Asexual Ascomycota and Basidiomycota

Imperfect fungi—those that do not display a sexual phase—were formerly classified in the form phylum Deuteromycota, an invalid taxon no longer used in the present, ever-developing classification of organisms. While Deuteromycota was once a classification taxon, recent molecular analysis has shown that some of the members classified in this group belong to the Ascomycota (Figure 1) or the Basidiomycota. Because some members of this group have not yet been appropriately classified, they are less well described in comparison to members of other fungal taxa. Most imperfect fungi live on land, with a few aquatic exceptions. They form visible mycelia with a fuzzy appearance and are commonly known as mold.

Micrograph shows Aspergillus mycelia, which look like long threads, and a spherical conidiophore about 40 microns across.

Figure 1. Aspergillus niger is an imperfect fungus commonly found as a food contaminant. The spherical structure in this light micrograph is an asexual conidiophore. (credit: modification of work by Dr. Lucille Georg, CDC; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

The fungi in this group have a large impact on everyday human life. The food industry relies on them for ripening some cheeses. The blue veins in Roquefort cheese and the white crust on Camembert are the result of fungal growth. The antibiotic penicillin was originally discovered on an overgrown Petri plate, on which a colony of Penicillium fungi had killed the bacterial growth surrounding it. Other fungi in this group cause serious diseases, either directly as parasites (which infect both plants and humans), or as producers of potent toxic compounds, as seen in the aflatoxins released by fungi of the genus Aspergillus.

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