Scientists document the bizarre mating habits of TRUFFLES in an effort to make them easier to grow
Scientists document the bizarre mating habits of TRUFFLES in an effort to make them grow more easily and reliably on farms
- Unlike many other types of fungi, truffles actually reproduce sexually
- Scientists have learned that truffles need a male and female couple to reproduce
- One of the main obstacles to the reproduction of truffles is their tendency to kill members of the opposite sex who invade their territory.
The mystery of reproductive habits of truffles has contributed to making culinary delicacy relatively difficult to cultivate, but researchers have been working steadily to understand the sex life of truffles so farmers can grow them more reliably.
Other fungi, such as mushrooms, reproduce asexually by spreading their spores through the air.
For years, researchers thought that truffles were reproduced in the same way, not spreading their spores through the air, but because of the feces of the dogs or pigs that would dig them from the ground.
The reproductive habits of truffles have long been a source of mystery for researchers
In 2008, Frencesco Paolocci, a researcher at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioresources in Perugia, Italy, discovered that common wisdom was wrong and that truffles are highly sexual entities.
According to a report New scientistPaolocci discovered that truffles were also split into male and female forms, and could only reproduce when a member of each gender cooperated.
A female partner supplies nutrients to the new tissue and a male partner to deliver DNA.
Within each gender there are two different mating types, called MAT 1 and MAT 2, that must be paired before reproduction can begin.
Unfortunately, different types of truffles will kill each other rather than reproduce when placed close to each other.
This is because truffles are part of a much larger system of wispy white roots, known as a mycelium, that spreads across the forest floor as a thicker type of spider web.
Unlike many other fungi, truffles reproduce sexually rather than asexually, although they often have the same chance of killing potential partners for breaching their territory
The Mycelium extracts nutrients from tree roots and feeds small buttons of truffles underground.
When mycelium of another mating type invades the territory of another, they seem to induce a kind of necrosis to protect their host tree.
“They don’t have their sexual partners,” truffle researcher Marc-André Selosse told New Scientist.
“It looks like cities with only men or only women.”
Adding to the mystery, male truffles seem hard to trace and tend to reproduce only once or twice before they disappear.
The current theory is that male truffle traces lie dormant in the ground and only germinate after a genetically comparable female truffle spreads over a nearby root.
This can help to explain the relative genetic similarity between parents in truffles.
“The fathers are genetically very close to the mothers, and we know that the more physically close they are, the more genetically close,” Selosse said.
HOW do you grow TRUFFLES?
Historically, truffles were simply “found” and could not be grown.
They were often detected by Truffle pigs who had an excellent nose for the fungus.
In the 19th century, many of the attempts to cultivate the truffle failed miserably.
The French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once called truffles ‘the diamond of the kitchen’.
In 1825 he said: “The most learned men have tried to find out the secret [to growing truffles]and they wanted to discover the seed.
“Their promises, however, were vain and there was never planted by a harvest.”
The truffle fungus needs a host, often the roots of a tree to grow well.
Truffles are produced by inoculating the seeds of trees with the fungus.
This fragile process takes place in a greenhouse and can take some time, the trees are then planted and as the plant grows, the roots and as a result also the truffles grow.
The tubers can then be harvested when fully developed.