Truffles’ sex lives unravelled, may be affordable now

November 1st, 2010 - 3:48 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 1 (IANS) Scientists have unravelled the secretive sex lives of black truffles, which may help make the delicacy more affordable.

Prized by chefs worldwide, the tuber is notoriously expensive - at 100 pounds a piece - because they are so rare and extremely difficult to grow.

Black truffles, also used as an aphrodisiac for thousands of years, themselves need a bit of help when it comes to mating.

A single specimen of black truffle or tuber melanosporum can reach up to three inches in diameter and weigh up to three ounces, reports the Telegraph.

Growing underground on the roots of oak trees, they have proved notoriously difficult to cultivate. For years, the reason has been a mystery, as has the precise method by which the fungi spread, according to the journal New Phytologist.

Now researchers have now solved the puzzle. They have found that truffles are either male or female, and they only reproduce sexually.

This makes them distinct from other fungi, which can self-fertilise and even reproduce asexually. To make matters worse, they tend to become isolated in single-sex colonies growing many yards apart.

But Francesco Paolocci, who led the latest research at the Plant Genetics Institute in Perugia, Italy, said his team’s findings could help increase the annual crop of truffles and even bring down the price.

“To produce the truffles, you have to have the two different sexual strains meeting in some way, but they can be quite far away from each other. We think that in nature animals, such as dogs or pigs, or insects can carry the spores from one colony to another allowing mating to take place,” Paolocci said.

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