Field of Science

A truffle trifle?

This is another one of those news reports that leaves me wondering about science reporting, and the use of PR to make your research seem more important. The truffle is an Ascomycete fungus and their sexual reproduction has long been known. Ascomycetes like this have mating types, so think + or -and it takes two mycelia (the filamentous “plant” body) to mate, one of each mating type. The result of such a fusion does not result in a diploid nucleus, but a dikaryon cell with two nuclei, one + and one -, and together with the + and – mycelia, they produce a fruiting structure, in this case the divine ascocarp called a truffle. So why is this worthy of news; it's been known for decades? Maybe it wasn’t known that each oak tree harbored only one individual mycelium of a single mating type and that’s why sexual reproduction is a bit rare, requiring a bit of “outreach” to find a mate. In case you did not know truffles are a symbiotic fungus that grow in association with oak tree roots, and the fruiting bodies are inconveniently produced under ground. Pigs have long been used to sniff them out, but then you have to hold the beast back and fight them for the prize; now dogs are more commonly used because they can smell truffles but don’t want to eat them. Basidiomycetes like your common grocery store mushroom persist in the dikaryon condition, although that takes some interesting gymnastics during cell division to maintain two and exactly two nuclei, one of each type, and therefore these dikaryon fungi are relatively easy to culture.

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