Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cheese!

After my post yesterday looking at some of the deep mysteries of physics and our universe, I wanted to do something a little lighter today, so I decided to take a closer look at one of my favorite cheeses: Brie.

A tasty slice of Brie.

Brie is a soft cheese that originated in the Brie region in France. That white rind you see is actually a mold, typically either Penicillium candidum or Penicillium camemberti. (Although these molds are in the Penicillium genus, they are not closely enough related to Penicillium chrysogenum [the commercial source of penicillin] to actually be of use in warding off infection.)

Fungi are pretty cool organism, because of their saprotrophic nature, although that's also one reason I generally prefer to avoid eating them. Saprotrophic basically means that an organism digests its food outside of its cells (unlike bacteria, protozoa, or plants) by secreting various digestive enzymes, then absorbing the simpler products into its cells. Given that this is something typically associated with fungi and the decomposition of dead things, I was shocked while researching it to discover that this is essentially the same way that vertebrates, including people, digest their food. There really is almost no difference, though, if you think about it: in humans, the food in enclosed in the small intestine, but it's still outside the cells (mathematically, humans are homeomorphic with donuts) which secrete various digestive enzymes that break it down before the smaller simpler products are absorbed into the bloodstream for transport throughout the body. It's one of the reasons fungi are considered more closely related to animals than to plants. Fascinating, really. Next time you have a big meal, ponder the fact that you share the same basic idea behind your digestion with fungi of all shapes and flavors!


2 comments:

  1. Did you eat that like a slice of cake? I know what to do for your next birthday!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, I certainly didn't eat it all at one go. It'll probably last me about a week. It is cheese after all, it's quite filling.

    ReplyDelete

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