Saprophytes: Introduction of Saprophytes, Characteristics, Saprophytic Nutrition (For CBSE, ICSE, IAS, NET, NRA 2022)

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Introduction of Saprophytes

  • Those living organisms that live and feed on dead and decaying organisms are called Saprophytes.
  • One of the examples is that of a fungi which obtain nutrients directly from dead organic matter or wastes.
  • The term saprophyte is usually referred to saprophytic fungi or saprophytic bacteria.
  • The complex organic matter is broken down into simpler substances that are used by the plants for various metabolic activities.
  • Examples of saprophytes are cheese, mold, yeast, corallorhiza orchids, Mycorrhizal fungi, Mucor, etc.

Characteristics of Saprophytes

  • They are heterotrophic.
  • They can produce filaments.
  • They are mostly unicellular.
  • They do not contain leaves, stems, or roots.
  • They secrete digestive juices.
  • They can produce spores.
  • Photosynthesis process cannot be performed by them.
  • They are significant in case of soil biology.

Saprophytic Nutrition

  • It is a process of chemoheterotrophic extracellular digestion involved in the processing of decayed (dead or waste) organic matter.
  • Chemotrophs are those that obtain energy by the oxidation of electron donors in their environments.
    • Molecules can be organic (chemoorganotrophs) or inorganic (chemolithotrophs) .
  • This nutrition is usually displayed by bacteria and fungi living in moist environments.

Process Involved

Process Involved


Get broken down into their amino acid composites through the breaking of peptide bonds by proteases.

  • A protease is a Trypsin that catalyzes (increases the rate of) proteolysis.
  • These are involved in many biological functions including digestion of ingested proteins.
  • It is also known as a peptidase or proteinase.
  • Proteolysis is the breakdown of proteins into smaller polypeptides or single amino acids.
  • TEV protease is a highly sequence-specific cysteine protease from Tobacco Etch Virus (TEV) .
The Structure of a Protease (TEV Protease)


  • These are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol by lipases.
  • Lipids are macro biomolecule soluble in nonpolar solvents.
  • Any enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of fats is called a lipase.
  • Breaking down of starch into pieces of simple disaccharides by amylases.
  • An enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of starch into sugars.


  • It is a major portion of plant cells.
  • A major constituent of decaying matter is broken down into glucose.

Conditions for Saprophytic Nutrition

Conditions for Saprophytic Nutrition


Q. What are the important functions performed by Saprophytes?


The two most important functions performed by Saprophytes are:

i) They break down the dead and decaying organic matter into simpler substances. These substances can be recycled by the plants.

ii) They help in maintaining the ecological balance.

Q. Where saprophytes can be found and how do they grow?


  • Saprophytes can be found throughout the environment. They live on decaying vegetation such as leaves, sticks, and logs.
  • Saprophytes contain tubular structures known as hyphae that are responsible for producing digestive enzymes (branching into the dead matter) thereby breaking down complex matter into simpler ones. Hyphae absorbs the simpler substances that grow into mycelium within sometime.

Q. Which saprophyte is responsible for causing disease?


  • Pathogenic fungi are responsible for causing disease in plants or animals.
  • Many of the fungi being saprophytic feed on dead organic material, and as such are harmless and often beneficial.

Q. What are the conditions for Saprophytic Nutrition?


The conditions for Saprophytic Nutrition are:

i) Presence of Water

ii) Presence of Oxygen

iii) Neutral-acidic pH

iv) Low medium temperature