PPEM 120: The Fungal Jungle: A Mycological Safari From Truffles to Slime Molds (Fall 2017)

Fungi are a fascinating group of organisms that we encounter in everyday life.


  • Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology


Fungi represent one of five or one of sixteen Kingdoms of biological organisms depending on the system used. Either way the fungi are an integral and essential component of the biological world worthy of study by scientists and non-scientists alike. However, despite their importance to the ecosystem and to human affairs, fungi are among the least-studied groups of biological organisms. This is unfortunate since fungi are often quite beautiful and impact everyone’s life. The goal of this course is to provide a framework and context for non-science majors to become familiar with the fungi and their importance to other life forms including humans. Topics to be covered include the structure and classification of fungi, the ways in which fungi interact with other organisms as pathogens or beneficial partners, the contributions fungi make to ecosystem functioning, and the ways in which humans use fungi and products derived from them.

Course Logistics

Class Meeting Times: M W F | 1:25-2:15 p.m.
Class Location: 213 Buckhout Lab
Credits: 3


Dr. María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco, Associate Professor, Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology
309 Buckhout Laboratory
(but please, contact me through Canvas)
Office hours: By appointment

Dr. Gretchen Kuldau, Associate Professor, Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology
308 Buckhout Laboratory
(but please, contact me through Canvas)
Office hours: By appointment


John de Soto, Jr., Graduate Student, Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology

Course Objectives

  • At the end of the course students should be familiar with the major groups of fungi, understand the relationships amongst them and be able to describe the extent of biodiversity within the Kingdom Fungi.
  • At the end of the semester students should be able to accurately describe the characteristics of fungi that differentiate them from other organisms.
  • Students should be able to describe how biological organisms are classified and the methods that scientists use in classification and the importance of biological classification.
  • At the end of the semester students should have a good understanding of the myriad ways that fungi impact and interface with human affairs both in a current and historical context.
  • At the end of the semester, students should be able to describe the various roles of fungi in the global ecosystem.
  • Students should be able to articulate the concept of the symbiotic continuum and the different types of symbiotic relationships in which fungi participate.
  • At the end of the semester students should have developed an appreciation for the natural beauty of Fungi.
  • At the end of the semester, students should be adept at locating fungi in natural and manmade environments.
  • Appreciate the importance of fungi for humans in particular and for the earth in general.
  • At the end of the semester students should be more interested in and curious about fungi than they were at the beginning of the semester.

Grading Policy and Format

ActivityPoints% Total Grade
Class attendance/participation 100 10
Fungus Journal assignment (3 entries, 50 pts each) 150 15
About Me assignment 25 2.5
Birthday Pages assignment 25 2.5
Fungi in the News assignment 75 7.5
Fungal Essay Questions 75 7.5
Favorite Fungus assignment 50 5
Four exams (100 pts each; lowest score dropped) 300 30
Final comprehensive exam 200 20
TOTAL 1000 100


Grade% Total Available Points
A 93-100%
A- 90-92%
B+ 87-89%
B 83-86%
B- 80-82%
C+ 77-79%
C 73-77%
D 60-72%
F 59% or less
Students receiving a grade of F may repeat the course with the permission of the course instructor.

The course instructors reserve the right to make adjustments to the syllabus, assignments, and schedule as necessary and will announce such changes in class.

Class Attendance

Students are expected to attend all class sessions. Class participation points will be awarded, in part, based on attendance. Attendance during the drop/add period will not be considered. Regular class attendance is one of the most important ways that students learn and understand course materials. It is a critical element of student success. Accordingly, it is the policy of the University and this course that class attendance is expected. A student should attend every scheduled class and will be held responsible for all work covered in this course.

Instructors will provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up work for students who miss class for regularly scheduled, university-approved curricular and extracurricular activities (such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, field trips, debate trips, choir trips, and athletic contests). In addition, instructors will provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up work for students who miss class for post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to reschedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews.) In both cases, students should inform instructors in advance and discuss the implications of any absence. Missing class, even for a legitimate purpose, may mean that there is work that cannot be made up, hurting the student’s grade in the class. Likewise, students should be prepared to provide documentation for participation in university-approved activities, as well as for career-related interviews, when requested by the instructor.

Instructors also will provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up work for students who miss classes for other legitimate but unavoidable reasons. Legitimate, unavoidable reasons are those such as illness, injury, military service, family emergency, or religious observance. Again, it should be recognized that not all work can be “made-up” and that absences can affect student performance in a class.

If an evaluative event will be missed due to an unavoidable absence, the student should contact the instructor as soon as the unavoidable absence is known to discuss ways to make up the work. An instructor might not consider an unavoidable absence legitimate if the student does not contact the instructor before the evaluative event. Students will be held responsible for using only legitimate, unavoidable reasons for requesting a make-up in the event of a missed class or evaluative event. (See 44-35 Conflict of Non-Final Examinations policy.) Requests for missing class or an evaluative event due to reasons that are based on false claims may be considered violations of the 49-20 Academic Integrity policy. (See Faculty Senate Policy 42-27 on Class Attendance).

Exam Policy

Exams are scheduled at the beginning of the semester. Make-up exams will be allowed only if the student has a valid excuse, and they need to be approved in advance by the instructor. Make-up exams must be arranged before the exam period. Students missing an exam without a valid excuse will receive a grade of zero for that exam. Unusual circumstances affecting exams must be discussed with the instructors prior to the scheduled exam.

Late Work Policy

Deadlines will be provided for all written assignments, and all assignments will be submitted in CANVAS. There will be a 24-hour grace period for late submissions during which no points will be deducted. Assignments submitted after the 24-hour grace period but before one week from the original due date will receive a maximum of 50 percent of the available points. Assignments submitted more than one week late will receive a zero. Exceptions to this policy may be granted on a case-by-case basis for unavoidable circumstances such as those described above.

Special Flu Policy and Procedures

In compliance with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control recommendation, students should NOT attend class or any public gatherings while ill with influenza. Students with flu symptoms will be asked to leave campus if possible and to return home during recovery. The illness and self-isolation period will usually be about a week. It is very important that individuals avoid spreading the flu to others. Students with the flu do not need to provide a physician's certification of illness. However, ill students should inform their teachers (but not through personal contact in which there is a risk of exposing others to the virus) as soon as possible that they are absent because of the flu. Likewise, students should contact their instructors as quickly as possible to arrange to make up missed assignments or exams.

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The Pennsylvania State University is a community dedicated to personal and academic excellence. The Penn State Principles were developed to embody the values that we hope our students, faculty, staff, administration, and alumni possess. At the same time, the University is strongly committed to freedom of expression. Consequently, these Principles do not constitute University policy and are not intended to interfere in any way with an individual's academic or personal freedoms. We hope, however, that individuals will voluntarily endorse these common principles, thereby contributing to the traditions and scholarly heritage left by those who preceded them, and will thus leave Penn State a better place for those who follow.

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