MadSci Network: General Biology

Re: Do molds help human beings in any way?

Date: Wed Jan 5 07:57:14 2000
Posted By: Don Schaffner, Faculty, Food Science, Rutgers University
Area of science: General Biology
ID: 946527118.Gb

> Basically, I want to know if we could survive without molds, or if they 
> actually help us live.Molds just seem like pests to me. 

Good question!

Well, they certainly aren't ALL pests, and some can actually help us.  
Could we survive without them?  No, they are really a critical part of the 

First let me give you a few examples of the helpful ones I am most 
familiar with as a food microbiologist.

Molds and yeasts are classified as "Fungi".  Mushrooms (including the 
poisonous kind and the kind you find on pizza) are also classified as 
fungi.  So one way they help us is by being food.  

We eat other fungi besides mushrooms too.  Yeast are used to make beer and 
wine.  Yeast also make bread rise.  Some molds are also used to make 
foods... bleu cheese is one example.  There are also quite a few asian 
foods that are made using molds.  Examples include: Miso, Ontjom, Tempeh 
and soy sauce!

Molds help us in other very important ways too.  Many antibiotics are made 
by molds.  Penicillin is the classic example.  Another one called 
Streptomycin was discovered here at Rutgers University.

Finally, molds are a very important part of the ecosystem. When a tree 
dies in a forest, molds play a very important role in turning that tree 
back into soil so that it can be used for food to grow more trees.  I 
studied one such mold called Trichoderma reesei when I was working on my 
Ph.D. degree.  We used this mold to make food processing waste into useful 

So, molds might be pests some of the time, but they can also be very 

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