Fungal Biology Minor

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Description of the Minor

Fungi are important in making our planet work.  They have profound impacts on biological systems as recyclers, nutrient prospectors, symbionts, pathogens, spoilage organisms, and sources of pharmaceuticals and other useful biochemicals. Cornell has no undergraduate major focusing entirely on mycology, but students in diverse fields can add a Minor in Fungal Biology that provides a deep knowledge of fungi and expands their versatility in the workplace.

The human, animal, and plant diseases caused by fungi are threats to global health.  Serious fungal infections of humans are increasing at an alarming rate, in part due to a rise in numbers of immune-compromised individuals.  Lately we’ve seen new diseases like white nose syndrome of bats and the deadly frog chytrid—these and other emerging diseases are endangering animal species worldwide.   Most plant diseases are caused by fungi, but they are increasingly difficult to manage with fungicides or conventional methods of breeding plants for resistance.  We are increasingly aware of the acute and chronic impacts of mycotoxins in foods and indoor environments.

Despite their negative impacts, we are more aware than ever of the benefits of fungi.  For thousands of years we’ve used fungi to make beer and wine and bread. Today, we brew ethanol for fuel and develop new foods, enzymes, and nutrients from the biochemical repertoires of fungi.  Truffles are among the most expensive foods on earth because nobody has figured out a cost-effective way to cultivate them, but any of us can afford “ordinary” mushrooms for dinner.  We now use symbiotic fungi to support forest and crop growth, and parasitic fungi to kill pests.

Cornell is one of few places in the United States where students can receive in-depth training on fungi and their impacts. Cornell’s prominence in the field dates from the late 1800s and continues through today’s genomics-enabled research. Students who add a Minor in Fungal Biology emerge understanding how fungi are studied with modern technologies; how they are dispersed and grow; how they can contribute or cause harm to health and ecosystem functioning; and how their growth can spoil our foods and other products before they come to market. The Fungal Biology Minor provides students with a broad introduction to fungi, their lifestyles and biology, and their roles in ecosystems and human affairs.


To satisfy the requirements of the Fungal Biology Minor, students complete two foundation courses listed below (7 credits), plus at least six additional credits at the 2000-level or higher, for a minimum of 13 credits. Credit for fungus-related courses not listed below requires the approval of the minor advisor. Special topic courses, independent study, seminar courses, and courses without regular instruction cannot be counted toward the credit requirement without prior written approval of the minor advisor.

All courses must be taken for a letter grade and students must receive a grade of “C” or better for the course to count toward the minor. Plant Sciences majors should note that this minor is a forbidden overlap with the Plant Sciences concentration in Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology. The Fungal Biology Minor especially complements majors in the health sciences, Biological Sciences, Biology and Society, Biological or Chemical Engineering, Microbiology, Plant Sciences, Food Science, Nutritional Sciences, Natural Resources, Entomology, Animal Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, and Viticulture and Enology.

Foundation and Elective Courses

Two foundation courses are required of all students in the Fungal Biology Minor:

Required Foundation Courses (7 cr)

Course No. Course Title Credits Semester Offered
PLPPM 3010 Biology and Management of Plant Diseases 4 cr Fall
PLPPM 4490 Advanced Mycology 3 cr Fall

In addition, students are required to take a minimum of 6 credits from the list below.

Elective Courses (6 cr)

Take a minimum of 6 credits from this list

PLPPM 2010


PLPPM 2013


PLPPM 2015

Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds          


Mushrooms, Molds, and More          


Mushrooms, Molds, and Molecules

2 cr


3 cr


3 cr




PLPPM 3190 Mushrooms of Field and Forest 2 cr Fall
PLPPM 3290 Medical and Veterinary Mycology 3 cr Fall
PLPPM 4480 Symbioses: Evolution & Ecology 3 cr Spring
PLPPM 4020 Biology of Plant Pathogens 3 cr Spring
PLPPM 4380 Fungal Genetics and Genomics 3 cr Spring

Learning Outcomes

After completing the requirements of this concentration, student will be able to:

  1. Understand the ecological roles and global impacts of fungi as:
    1. decomposers,
    2. mutualists of plants (endophytes, mycorrhizae, lichens) and animals (gut microbiota),
    3. pathogens of plants and animals,
    4. sources of food, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, and organic acids,
    5. allergens and producers of carcinogens and other toxins,
    6. model systems for biology
  2. Describe the major groups of fungi and their life histories
  3. Integrate evolutionary and reproductive biology to understand patterns and impacts of genetic variation in fungi.
  4. Apply knowledge about fungal properties and diversity to solve real world challenges.
  5. Sample fungi from the environment and apply genome- and morphology-based methods to identify them.
  6. Critically read and synthesize research articles about fungi.
  7. Speak the language of fungal biology and communicate about fungi to others

Information for Transfer Students

Transfer students are encouraged to apply for a Minor in Fungal Biology. An initial meeting with a minor advisor will help determine if a student is able to take the necessary credits or has equivalencies that can be applied to satisfy the program requirements.

How to receive credit for the Minor Program of Study in Fungal Biology

1.   Meet with a faculty minor advisor (see list at left) to discuss your interests and choose the courses you will take to satisfy the minor.

2.   Submit a copy of the application for admission form to a minor advisor. Retain a copy for your records and give your major advisor a copy for your file.

3.   Complete the courses required for the Minor in Fungal Biology.

4.   In the final semester prior to graduation, bring a copy of your transcript and your “Application to Graduate” to your minor advisor. Upon verification of the successful completion of all requirements, your minor advisor will sign the form required for the minor.