We're not saying those mushrooms growing in your yard are your second cousins...

fungi are closer than you think!

Here's some dinner conversation for tonight, you can start with something like this, "Hey Dad, did you know you are more closely related to that mushroom on your plate than that mushroom is to that piece of broccoli?!" If he doesn't get too mad, you can go on to explain.

Although traditionally studied by botanists, fungi are actually more closely related to animals (like you!) than plants. Animals and fungi are sister kingdoms of a “supergroup” called Opisthokonta. Shared characteristics of most Opisthokonta are cells that move, powered by a single tail (sperm in animals and the zoospores found in several primitive, aquatic fungi), flattened compartments inside their cells (known as mitochondrion organelles), and they eat other organisms for their energy (this is called heterotrophic nutrition).

However, a big difference between fungi and animals is how they get nutrients from their food source. Fungi grow inside their food, from which they are separated by a cell wall, and secrete enzymes across the cell wall to digest food externally and then import pre-digested food. Animals, on the other hand, lack cell walls and engulf their food whole and digest it internally. (Picture you chowing down a piece of pepperoni pizza -- with or without mushrooms!)

Plants use photosynthesis to make their own food using energy harvested from light (also known as autotrophic nutrition). For more information on the characteristics of fungi and their phylogenetic position see the Tree of Life website.

With thanks to Tim James, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of Michigan; assistant curator, U-M Herbarium