What is Mold?

Written by Andy Konopacki

Molds are microscopic fungi which utilize non-living organic material, like wood framing or drywall found in a residential structure, for food. Molds, like all fungi, are unable to make their own food from light and therefore feed on cellulose (organic materials) for energy and subsequent survival. We call these types of organisms “heterotrophic” because they rely on organic materials to get carbon for growth. Animals, along with fungi and bacteria are heterotrophic.

Molds develop from reproductive seeds, known as spores, which germinate when appropriate conditions exist. When a mold spore settles on a moist surface, it will begin to absorb water and grow long, branch like structures known as hyphae. If moisture persists, the hyphae will continue to grow and develop a collective mass know as a mycelium. As growth continues the mycelium expand across the surface with hyphae growing on the exterior of the food source. Unlike mold spores, mycelium can be seen by the naked eye. As the fungi mature, spores begin to form within the aerial hyphae. Air currents, moisture droplets and insects aid in the transportation of spores to other areas starting a new reproduction cycle. Molds can appear in a variety of colors including green, gray, brown and black. And most molds grow in a temperate range of 40-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Interesting Mold Facts:

 There are approximately 60,000-80,000 classified species of mold.

  • Many types of mold spores can survive extreme temperatures and high pressure making them extremely resilient.
  • Molds can survive extended periods of time without dying by entering a dormant state. This survival is most commonly seen within food containers stored in refrigerators.
  • Through the use of secreted enzymes and mycotoxins, molds can inhibit the growth of competing fungi. Yes, they battle each other.
  • Cultured molds have been successfully used in the food and medical industries for years. Most notable, the discovery in 1928 by Alexander Fleming of Penicillium chrysogenum, the mold which releases the antibiotic Penicillin.
  • Humans exposed to heavy concentrations of mold can develop allergens and other health related issues.
  • Molds cannot be time stamped.

Remember, mold spores are always present in both indoor and outdoor environments. For molds to grow, three important ingredients are required.

1.      A food source: Any material made of cellulose (organic material).

2.      Moisture: High humidity, plumbing leaks and other forms of water intrusion.

3.      Time: Mold growth can begin in as little as 24-72 hours.