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Mushrooms under a Microscope

It will be an interesting science microscope activity for teachers and students to examine the makings of a mushroom under the microscope. Mushrooms are considered by a lot of people as a delicacy even from the ancient times. They are also known as “toadstools” and they are plants that do not have any chlorophyll. This means that they are not capable of producing their own food like most plants do. Instead, mushrooms feed on dead organic substances.

We can examine a mushroom using either a high power compound light microscope or a low power stereoscopic microscope. The tiny cellular structures are examined by placing them on a microscope slide under the high power compound microscope. The larger, overall parts of the mushroom are studied using the low power stereo binocular microscope.

Before we begin with our microscope experiment, let us first do recap on how the mushroom grows and touch on its parts as we move on. Mushrooms or toadstools reproduce by single-celled microscopic spores that are scattered by the wind. Once they find a good soil, the cells begin to germinate and absorb food through its cell walls. These cells divide exponentially until it forms long chains of cells. These are called hypha and they look like threads to the unaided eye but if these are placed under a compound microscope, they look like cells that are placed end to end.

The hyphae form web-like mats that widely spread out through the layers of rotten wood or wherever it grows upon. This tangled hyphae is called the mycelium and we might often mistake this as the root. However, this is actually the vegetative body of the plant or the mushroom itself that is the fruit or the reproductive organ.

We can place the mycelium under a stereo microscope and see that it has small round bodies called buttons. These buttons are formed by the threads matting together and they start as something smaller than a pinhead. Gradually it will grow bigger until a minute stem appears. The stem lifts the button and this will eventually mature to a mature mushroom.

A common mushroom consists of parts starting from the stem called the handle. It has an open top called the cap and under it are thin plates called the gills. If we observe the button even under the stereo binocular microscope, we won’t be able to find the gills because it is hidden under a veil made of mycelium threads. This veil will stretch when the button grows and what will remain is the ring or the annulus. The entire mushroom is basically made up of the same structure, the mycelium, except on the surface of the gill. Let us cut the gill very thinly and examine it under a compound light microscope. We will see that it’s actually made up of mycelium that is loosely tangled. Outside this loosely tangled mycelium are shorter cells in layers. These cells carry club-shaped bodies on each side of the gill’s surface. These bodies are called basidia and they bear two to eight little stalks that each bear a spore. Then the cycle will repeat.

Examining a mushroom under a compound microscope can prove to be very educational especially to children and kids. We will come to learn that even though there are some mushrooms that are edible and some that are dangerous to our body, they still are of the same structure.

Students and teachers may want to take a field nature hiking trip to search for mushrooms. Upon finding the proper specimens, take a look at them with a field microscope that has been brought along. The field microscope may be either the high power version or the low power stereoscopic version. In both instances, it will be small, portable, and able to operate without a power outlet. It may be a rechargeable battery powered field microscope, it may use natural sunlight, or it may have a simple battery to power the light. In any case, looking and examining mushrooms may be done inside the classroom laboratory or outside on an exciting field nature trip. Students will enjoy this microscope lesson however it is done.

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