Friday, April 2, 2010

Fungus Among Us

Two Fungus Stories

Truffles Are Sexy!
If you think of truffles at all, it is probably as 1) a ridiculously expensive French mushroom which grows underground and )2 they are hunted by people using pigs to sniff them out.   This article in the
New York Times describes recent research including the decoding of its genome.
"Truffles are the fruit of fungi that infect the roots of certain trees. They are of keen interest to pigs, particularly sows, because some secrete androstenol, a hormone produced by boars before mating. People who use sows to hunt for truffles often find it hard to prevent a sex-crazed animal from eating the truffle she has found and may lose fingers in the attempt.
It turns out the truffles, too, have sex lives, said Dr. Francis Martin, a plant biologist at the University of Nancy in France and leader of the research team. The precious fungi had long been thought to lead an asexual existence, but Dr. Martin and his colleagues have found that they have two sexes, or mating types.
The fungus’s major concern is to spread its spores, a matter of some technical difficulty for an organism that lives underground. So it produces the redolent odors that will compel surface dwellers of all kinds to search for it, eat it and distribute its spores after they have dined."
At the top of the truffle food chain are gourmets who pay gold-like prices for the delicacy, leading to the sale of mushrooms stained with walnut juice to create counterfeit truffles.  "Dogs have taken over truffle detection duties from pigs because if one is trying to harvest a truffle wood discreetly without alerting the locals, it’s generally a mistake to show up walking a pig on a leash."  Next in line are boars and squirrels, driven wild by the truffle perfumes designed to mimic their own sex hormones.
"Last, there are the truffle flies which lay their eggs in the truffle. From the fungus’s perspective, the insects are just another way of spreading its spores. So it attracts them by releasing anisole and veratrole, two insect pheromones, when the truffle has reached maturity. Truffles can often be detected by looking for congregations of truffle flies.
Don’t the fly’s eggs and larvae degrade the edibility of the truffle? It seems the opposite is the case. “If collected at late maturation stages, the truffles will likely carry eggs and larvae — adding proteins and aroma to the truffle,” Dr. Martin said. "
I don't know about you, but the fly eggs sound a lot worse than the occasional tiny insect hiding in the pit of my morel.  At least then, you can add a little black pepper- then you will never know.  So get outside this weekend (not in my morel patch) and start hunting.   Francis Skalicky has some hints in the News-Leader.

 White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in Bats

 WNS Infected Bats

 Melvin Johnson sent me the latest on White Nose Syndrome in bat populations.
"It is believed that WNS is transmitted from bat to bat; however, humans may also carry WNS from cave to cave on their clothing and gear. Thus, bats could feasibly transmit WNS from one location to another during migrations. This may be the case with a Long- Eared Bat afflicted with WNS being discovered in Dunbar Cave, Clarksville, TN early spring 2010. Tennessee State Park immediately closed the cave to all tours.
Through the winter of 2008-09 WNS had spread and been documented in bat hibernacula in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. That was enough for several federal and state agencies along with organizations and groups to start closing both open and permitted caves to cavers and the general public. Early spring 2010 WNS was also discovered in Maryland.

The recent discovery of WNS in Clarksville, TN brings the bat health crisis to within a little over 100-miles of Missouri. That's close enough for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to likely release its WNS Policy, and likely close some key bat caves late spring or early summer 2010."
The whole article can be downloaded by clicking on The Park.

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