Mold: it's what makes blue cheese blue and turns other foods colors that make you not want to eat them. Scientists already knew that the prominent shades present can vary by region. (Most molds in the Amazon are orange, for example.) However, they've long been stumped as to why molds come in so many colors.

Recent research highlighted in the latest issue of Popular Science has made progress towards understanding the full range of the fungi rainbow. Nicholas Money, a fungal biologist at Miami University in Ohio, sought to better understand the role that melanins, carotenoids, and other pigments play by engineering molds without color. What he found was that these colorless molds were noticeably weaker.

"They’re pathetic," he said. "Their list of disabilities is so long that it’s difficult to focus on any one problem."

This supports the theory that color pigments work as a weapon or a barrier, protecting against enzymes produced by amoebas in the soil, or else rival molds. Other studies have shown that melanized fungi are heartier than non-melanized varieties. Specifically, their color gives them protection against ultraviolet light, temperature extremes, and free radicals.

[h/t Popular Science]