Fungal Biology 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.


Students complete two foundation courses listed below (five credits), plus at least six additional credits at the 2000-level or higher, for a minimum of 11 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. 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.

How to Apply

  1. Submit a copy of the application form and contact minor advisor Kathie Hodge to discuss your interests in fungal biology and decide which courses you will take to satisfy the minor. 
  2. Complete the required courses. 
  3. In your second-to-last semester, prior to pre-enrollment, meet with the minor advisor to determine if you have completed all requirements or if you need to take one or more classes your last semester. 
  4. After this meeting, email the Minor Coordinator, lcc2 [at] (subject: Minor%20coursework%20audit) (Leah Cook), with a copy to the minor advisor, listing any courses you need to complete in your final semester.

A final grade audit will be completed a few weeks after graduation, and the minor will be added to your academic record at that time. 

Foundation and Elective Courses

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

To learn more about these courses, visit the Courses of Study website.

Required Foundation Courses (5 credits)

  • PLPPM 3190 Mushrooms of Field and Forest (2 credits, Fall)
  • PLPPM 4300 Mycology (3 credits, Fall)

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

Elective Courses (6 credits)

Take a minimum of 6 credits from this list

  • PLSCI 2010 Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds (2 credits, Spring) or
    PLSCI 2013 Mushrooms, Molds, and More (3 credits, Spring) 
  • PLPPM 3010 Biology and Management of Plant Diseases (4 credits, Fall)
  • PLPPM 6380 Filamentous Fungal Genetics and Genomics (3 credits, odd years)
  • PLPPM 6490 Current Topics in Fungal Biology (1 credit, Fall) Exception to the no S/U rule
  • PLSCI 2990/4990 or BIOG 2990/4990 Independent Undergraduate Research (fungus-related) (1-3 credits, Fall or Spring)
  • FDSC 2206 Fermentation of Food (1 cr, 7 wks, Spring) +/- associated 0.5 credit lab
  • VIEN 4650 Wine Microbiology (3 credits, Fall)

Special note about undergrad research experience:
Advice about Cornell labs for fungus-related research can be obtained from the Minor Advisor, who must give written approval that the research project qualifies for the Elective Courses requirement. A maximum of three credits of undergraduate research can be applied to Minor requirements, and that research must be different from research required for your Major.

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

Contact Us

Prof. Kathie Hodge
401 Plant Science Bldg.
kh11 [at]

Leah Cook
135C Plant Science Bldg.
lcc2 [at]