A mold is a fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae. There are thousands of known species of molds, which have diverse life-styles including saprotrophs, mesophiles, psychrophiles and thermophiles and a very few opportunistic pathogens of humans.
They all require moisture for growth and some live in aquatic environments. Like all fungi, molds derive energy not through photosynthesis but from the organic matter on which they live, utilising heterotrophy. Typically, molds secrete hydrolytic enzymes, mainly from the hyphal tips. These enzymes degrade complex biopolymers such as starch, cellulose and lignin into simpler substances which can be absorbed by the hyphae. In this way molds play a major role in causing decomposition of organic material, enabling the recycling of nutrients throughout ecosystems. Many molds also synthesise mycotoxins and siderophores which, together with lytic enzymes, inhibit the growth of competing microorganisms. Molds can also grow on stored food for animals and humans, making the food unpalatable or toxic and are thus a major source of food losses and illness.
Molds are considered to be microbes and do not form a specific taxonomic or phylogenetic grouping, but can be found in the divisions Zygomycota and Ascomycota. In the past, most molds were classified within the Deuteromycota.