March 29, 2010

Researchers Unlock Truffle Genome

The genome of the black, golfball-sized edible mushroom known as the Perigord truffle has been successfully decoded by French and Italian researchers, a step that experts believe will cut down in fraudulent sales of Tuber melanosporum imposters.

In a March 28 press release, officials from the French National for Agricultural Research (INRA), who worked alongside officials from the Universities of Lorraine and the Mediterranean and scientists at laborites in Turin, Parma, Urbina, Rome, and elsewhere in Italy, announced that they had published a paper discussing the sequencing and decoding of the "black diamond" fungus.

The paper, which was published online in Nature on Sunday, found that 6,000 of the truffle's 7,500 protein-coding genes were similar to other mushrooms, but that "several hundred genes are unique to the truffle and play a fundamental role in mushroom formation and symbiosis with the host plant."

"Studying them will reveal the mechanisms behind the formation of this peculiar underground fructification," INRA officials said in their press release.

"The relevance of the study goes beyond the purely academic," the researchers claim. "Full sequencing of the black Perigord truffle genome has also allowed the development of high-throughput diagnostic tools for genetic polymorphism of this valuable product."

"DNA sequencing also made it possible to spot several thousand genetic markers in the genome. About a dozen of these are currently being used to create a DNA fingerprint file of some fifty populations of Tuber melanosporum from Italy, Spain, and France," they added. "The DNA fingerprints make it easier to carry out 'typing' of the geographic origin of harvested truffles, and allow the use of product certification and fraud detection tools."

Truffles can reach prices of more than $1,300 per pound, and they are often the target of fraud as individuals try to pass off cheap imitations as the immensely valuable Tuber melanosporum.


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