Spores, for the most part, are units of asexual reproduction. They are produced by nonflowering plants, bacteria, fungi, and algae, and are often able to travel over long distances. Some bacteria also produce spores as a way to survive very harsh conditions.
You’ve probably come into contact with spores before. Have you ever walked into your bathroom and noticed a musty smell? And then looked to see a glaze of green and black on the shower curtain? You had mold! You might remember hearing news stories on the dangers of mold and how it can infect your lungs and cause allergies and other nasty illnesses. But it’s not just the mold that can make you sick; it’s the spores.
Spores are the single-celled reproductive unit of nonflowering plants, bacteria, fungi, and algae. Basically, spores are the babies, except they didn’t need a mom and a dad. Not all life forms reproduce sexually. Many, such as fungi and bacteria, reproduce without mating at all. Instead, they produce hardy structures known as spores that are often adapted for dispersal from the main plant or fungus. Spores can last a very long time in some nasty conditions.
What Good Are Spores?
Spores are the reproductive structure of the ‘lower plants,’ plants that don’t flower. Fungi, algae, and even some bacteria all form spores when they want to pass their genes on. Think of them like seeds; they are made to grow a new plant and all they need is the proper environment to thrive.
Spores are an asexual form of reproduction; the plant or fungus doesn’t need to mate with another plant or fungus to form these particles. A spore is typically a single cell surrounded by a thick cell wall for protection. Once the spores are formed, the organism releases them into the environment to grow and thrive. Spores are often formed through a process called sporogenesis, which just means the production of spores, and is accomplished through mitosis, or cellular reproduction.Once a spore is produced, it needs to get out into the world where it can grow and thrive. It does this through dispersal adaptations in the spore, which are different features which allow the spore to travel. Some spores are so light they get picked up by the wind and blown to a new place.
Other spores ride on the currents of rivers and streams. Still others get shot out into the air by the fungus which made them, or placed in a fragile container that bursts open when touched.
Types of Spores
Spores are very common and depending on the type of organism that made them, they can look and act very different. Spores can be classified in many different ways based on their structure, where they come from, and how they move about the world.
Plant spores are produced by the organisms we can usually recognize.
The major types of plants that form spores are algae, mosses, and ferns.Algae are the simplest of these plants, and can range from tiny, single celled things to large, multi-celled plants that cover your backyard pond. The spores from all algae are very tiny, even if the algae plant is huge. In fact, most algal spores are as small as the period at the end of a sentence. No wonder we can’t see them very well! These spores tend to disperse through water and group together in large masses until they reach a good environment.
Mosses produce spores that are a little bit bigger than algal spores. These spores tend to be found in areas where mosses are common and are dispersed by being shot into the air, carried on the wind, moved by insects, or splattered by rain drops.Ferns are probably the most well-known spore-producing plants.
Just look beneath the long leaves, and you’ll see lots of brown dots. Those are the spores, just waiting to be sent into the world. There are over 15,000 species of fern on Earth today and all of these reproduce using spores.
Fungi are very complex organisms. The fungi you might know best are mushrooms, but many, many types of fungi exist out in the world.
These organisms reproduce using spores, and the spores are very complex and differ from fungal species to fungal species.Fungal spores are classified based on their shape and where in the fungus they are produced. We won’t go into all the different types of fungal spores out there, though there are some scientists who spend their life just studying this aspect of mycology, or the study of fungi. Fungal spores can be spread around through all manner of dispersal mechanisms, from floating on the air, to riding the waves, to being carried by animals.
Bacterial spores are slightly different from other spores we’ve looked at. While plant and fungal spores are exclusively meant for reproduction, bacteria can use spores for either reproduction or for survival under harsh conditions. Certain groups of bacteria will produce spores when they are exposed to very hot, very cold, or very dry environments.
These spores protect the inner workings of the bacterium and can stay dormant for many, many years. Recently, researchers discovered bacterial spores deep under ice in Antarctica that are approximately 3,000 years old! The bacterial spore is a very hardy cell and allows a bacterial cell to survive under even the worst conditions.
Spores are single-celled reproductive units produced by many different organisms, including plants, fungi, and bacteria. Spores are primarily used for asexual reproduction, although some bacterial groups use spores to survive harsh conditions.
- Spores are the asexual reproductive units of non-flowering plants, fungi and bacteria
- Spores are a single-cell surrounded by a thick cell wall
- Spores can be dispersed by air currents, water, and animals
- Some spores are made to survive extremely harsh condition and can stay dormant until the conditions are right
When you are done, you should be able to:
- Describe a spore and state its purpose
- Explain why spores are effective means of reproduction
- Compare the types of spores produced by plants, fungi and bacteria