Textbook Chapters | Study Guides | MCAT 2015 Topics | Online Presentations | About | Privacy Policy


Biology Study Guide Topics

Endocrine System | Lymphatic System | Blood | Circulatory System | Skull Bones | Human Skull and Brain | Tissue Types | The Cell | DNA | Anatomy Models | Electron Transport Chain | History of Microbiology | Human Anatomy | Punnett Squares | What is Mitosis | What is Life | Macromolecules | Cellular Respiration | DNA Replication | Enzymes | Pathogenic Bacteria | Natural Selection | Punnett Squares | Transcription and Translation | Exam Notes | Viruses | Osmosis | Protists | Genetic Code | Mendelian Genetics | Meiosis | Sensory Processing | Amino Acids |



Online Presentations

Bones of the Human Skull | Tissue Types | Selective and Differential Media

Classroom Activities

Recombinant DNA Cut And Tape Classroom Activity


Lichens

Learning Objectives

No one has to worry about getting sick from a lichen infection, but lichens are interesting from a microbiological perspective and they are an important component of most terrestrial ecosystems. Lichens provide opportunities for study of close relationships between unrelated microorganisms. Lichens contribute to soil production by breaking down rock, and they are early colonizers in soilless environments such as lava flows. The cyanobacteria in some lichens can fix nitrogen and act as a nitrogen source in some environments. Lichens are also important soil stabilizers in some desert environments and they are an important winter food source for caribou and reindeer. Finally, lichens produce compounds that have antibacterial effects, and further research may discover compounds that are medically useful to humans.

Characteristics

A lichen is a combination of two organisms, a green alga or cyanobacterium and an ascomycete fungus, living in a symbiotic relationship. Whereas algae normally grow only in aquatic or extremely moist environments, lichens can potentially be found on almost any surface (especially rocks) or as epiphytes (meaning that they grow on other plants).

In some ways, the symbiotic relationship between lichens and algae seems like a mutualism (a relationship in which both organisms benefit). The fungus can obtain photosynthates from the algae or cyanobacterium and the algae or cyanobacterium can grow in a drier environment than it could otherwise tolerate. However, most scientists consider this symbiotic relationship to be a controlled parasitism (a relationship in which one organism benefits and the other is harmed) because the photosynthetic organism grows less well than it would without the fungus. It is important to note that such symbiotic interactions fall along a continuum between conflict and cooperation.

Lichens are slow growing and can live for centuries. They have been used in foods and to extract chemicals as dyes or antimicrobial substances. Some are very sensitive to pollution and have been used as environmental indicators.

Lichens have a body called a thallus, an outer, tightly packed fungal layer called a cortex, and an inner, loosely packed fungal layer called a medulla ([link]). Lichens use hyphal bundles called rhizines to attach to the substrate.

This cross-section of a lichen thallus shows its various components. The upper cortex of fungal hyphae provides protection. Photosynthesis occurs in the algal zone. The medulla consists of fungal hyphae. The lower cortex also provides protection. The rhizines anchor the thallus to the substrate.
A drawing of a lichen which looks mostly like a web-work of strands. The top region is labeled cortex. The next region contains green circles and is labeled algal zone. The enxt region is labeled medulla. The next is lower cortex. The bottom region with forms triangular projections is labeled rhizine.

Lichen Diversity

Lichens are classified as fungi and the fungal partners belong to the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. Lichens can also be grouped into types based on their morphology. There are three major types of lichens, although other types exist as well. Lichens that are tightly attached to the substrate, giving them a crusty appearance, are called crustose lichens. Those that have leaf-like lobes are foliose lichens; they may only be attached at one point in the growth form, and they also have a second cortex below the medulla. Finally, fruticose lichens have rounded structures and an overall branched appearance. [link] shows an example of each of the forms of lichens.

Examples of the three types of lichens are shown here. (a) This is a crustose lichen found mostly on marine rocks, Caloplaca marina. (b) This is a foliose lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata. (c) This is a fruticose lichen, Letharia vulpina, which is sufficiently poisonous that it was once used to make arrowheads. (credit b, c: modification of work by Jason Hollinger)
photographs of lichen. A) is red-orange spots on a rock. B) is green leaf-like structures on a tree. C) is green hair-like structures on a tree.
Resolution

Sarah’s mother asks the doctor what she should do if the cream prescribed for Sarah’s ringworm does not work. The doctor explains that ringworm is a general term for a condition caused by multiple species. The first step is to take a scraping for examination under the microscope, which the doctor has already done. He explains that he has identified the infection as a fungus, and that the antifungal cream works against the most common fungi associated with ringworm. However, the cream may not work against some species of fungus. If the cream is not working after a couple of weeks, Sarah should come in for another visit, at which time the doctor will take steps to identify the species of the fungus.

Positive identification of dermatophytes requires culturing. For this purpose, Sabouraud’s agar may be used. In the case of Sarah’s infection, which cleared up within 2 weeks of treatment, the culture would have a granular texture and would appear pale pink on top and red underneath. These features suggest that the fungus is Trichophyton rubrum, a common cause of ringworm.

Go back to the previous Clinical Focus box.

Key Concepts and Summary

Multiple Choice

You encounter a lichen with leafy structures. Which term describes this lichen?

  1. crustose
  2. foliose
  3. fruticose
  4. agarose

B

Which of the following is the term for the outer layer of a lichen?

  1. the cortex
  2. the medulla
  3. the thallus
  4. the theca

A

The fungus in a lichen is which of the following?

  1. a basidiomycete
  2. an ascomycete
  3. a zygomycete
  4. an apicomplexan

B

Short Answer

What are three ways that lichens are environmentally valuable?

This page was adapted from the textbook made available by OpenStax College under a Creative Commons License 4.0 International. Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/latest/



The pdf study guides on this site are licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 International License. Please note that this only applies to the pdf format study guides. Some of the figures available under creative commons can be found here: ccimages

© 2009-2016 Anthony D'Onofrio, PhD