Mould facts

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Moldy nectarines
Mould on nectarines
Mould on the ceiling of a home

Mould (or mold) is a type of fungus. Mould grows from spores, which float around in the air. There are thousands of different kinds. They are often seen in wet places. Molds include all species of microscopic fungi. In contrast, microscopic fungi that grow as single cells are called yeasts.

Some molds cause disease or food spoilage. Sometimes people use them to make some kinds of cheese and antibiotics. One special kind of mold can be used to make penicillin, a common antibiotic.


Mold growth covering a decaying peach. The frames were taken approximately 12 hours apart over a period of six days.
Mouldy Clementine
Mold growing on a clementine

There are thousands of known species of molds, which have diverse life-styles including saprotrophs, mesophiles, psychrophiles and thermophiles and a very few opportunistic pathogens of humans. They all require moisture for growth and some live in aquatic environments. Like all fungi, molds derive energy not through photosynthesis but from the organic matter on which they live, utilising heterotrophy. Typically, molds secrete hydrolytic enzymes, mainly from the hyphal tips. These enzymes degrade complex biopolymers such as starch, cellulose and lignin into simpler substances which can be absorbed by the hyphae. In this way molds play a major role in causing decomposition of organic material, enabling the recycling of nutrients throughout ecosystems. Many molds also synthesise mycotoxins and siderophores which, together with lytic enzymes, inhibit the growth of competing microorganisms. Molds can also grow on stored food for animals and humans, making the food unpalatable or toxic and are thus a major source of food losses and illness. Many strategies for food preservation (salting, pickling, jams, bottling, freezing, drying) are to prevent or slow mold growth as well as growth of other microbes.

Molds reproduce by producing large numbers of small spores, which may contain a single nucleus or be multinucleate. Mold spores can be asexual (the products of mitosis) or sexual (the products of meiosis); many species can produce both types. Some molds produce small, hydrophobic spores that are adapted for wind dispersal and may remain airborne for long periods; in some the cell walls are darkly pigmented, providing resistance to damage by ultraviolet radiation. Other mold spores have slimy sheaths and are more suited to water dispersal. Mold spores are often spherical or ovoid single cells, but can be multicellular and variously shaped. Spores may cling to clothing or fur; some are able to survive extremes of temperature and pressure.

Although molds can grow on dead organic matter everywhere in nature, their presence is visible to the unaided eye only when they form large colonies. A mold colony does not consist of discrete organisms but is an interconnected network of hyphae called a mycelium. All growth occurs at hyphal tips, with cytoplasm and organelles flowing forwards as the hyphae advance over or through new food sources. Nutrients are absorbed at the hyphal tip. In artificial environments such as buildings, humidity and temperature are often stable enough to foster the growth of mold colonies, commonly seen as a downy or furry coating growing on food or other surfaces.

Few molds can begin growing at temperatures of 4 °C (39 °F) or below, so food is typically refrigerated at this temperature. When conditions do not enable growth to take place, molds may remain alive in a dormant state depending on the species, within a large range of temperatures. The many different mold species vary enormously in their tolerance to temperature and humidity extremes. Certain molds can survive harsh conditions such as the snow-covered soils of Antarctica, refrigeration, highly acidic solvents, anti-bacterial soap and even petroleum products such as jet fuel.

Xerophilic molds are able to grow in relatively dry, salty, or sugary environments, where water activity (aw) is less than 0.85; other molds need more moistu

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Mould Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.