Genes Matter for Truffle Aroma: Geography Not as Important to a Prized Fungus' Scent
Ehrenberg, Rachel, Science News
Mon dieu! A truffle's delectable aroma may be as much about genetics as it is about geography.
For years a truffle's flavor has been attributed mostly to environmental factors, akin to how terroir--the soil, climate and geology of a region--bestows qualities to wine. But a new analysis, published in the May New Philologist, finds that a truffle's particular blend of chemical compounds is linked instead to its genetic background.
By casting light on what gives these elusive underground fungi their prized flavor, the study could help transform some truffles from species harvested in the wild to consistent crops.
"Truffles are a really valuable natural resource, and it's the aroma that really gives them their value," says Gregory Bonito of Duke University, an expert in truffle evolution.
But teasing out what gives a truffle its aromatic oomph has been tough, thanks in part to the complexity of the truffle lifestyle. Truffles are the fruiting body of a particular group of fungi. These fungi strike up partnerships with various tree species, so that the fungal spores germinate and grow into threadlike structures on the trees' roots. When fungal threads of different mating types find one another in the soil, sexual reproduction occurs and small truffles develop, 10 to 30 centimeters deep. The most prized species of the gastronomic delicacies may sell for thousands of dollars a pound. …