Tag Archives: Fungal Genomics

Drought-Induced Decline in Mediterranean Truffle Harvest

Some of my favorite foods are truffles, and perhaps the best tasting truffle – in my humble opinion – is the famous Périgord Black Truffle, also known as Tuber melanosporum, which is known as a prized delicacy capable of fetching a pretty penny.

me holding truffle

Tuber melanosporum is an important ectomycorrhizal fungus that can be cultivated with crop trees such as Hazelnut, and other truffles can be cultivated with other nut trees such as Pecan.  Despite a concerted effort to understand the biology of T. melanosporum, both through a genome sequence and other molecular tools to understand population biology – as well as government efforts to promote cultivation with nut trees – harvests of the Périgord Black Truffle have been declining since the 1970s.  There has been no agreement in what has been causing this decline from a community of researchers.

truffle climate change paper header

In a brief report entitled “Drought-Induced Decline in Mediterranean Truffle Harvest” in the journal Nature Climate Change, Büntgen et al. recently described how climate change may be affecting truffle production, either directly, or by affecting the biology of the truffle’s host trees.  Such measurements are challenging in numerous regards; inspecting climate data is difficult enough, but reports of truffle harvesting are scarce for many reasons, one of which is the fact that many successful truffle collectors are reluctant to give information about their productive grounds.

truffle climate paper figure

The authors correlated climate details from 12 climate models with truffle harvests from various parts of Europe (namely Aragón in Spain, Périgord in southern France, and Piedmont and Umbria in Northern Italy).  They observed that tree ring growth in Oak trees and truffle production were correlated and showed that increased measurements of summer evapotranspiration could explain both the reduction in plant growth and truffle production.

The authors hypothesize that tree and fungus competition for summer soil moisture may be reducing the production on truffle sporocarps.  Unless the present course of climate change is reversed, it is expected that truffle harvests in Europe will continue to decline.  This is bad news not just for the truffles and trees, but the people who enjoy both.

UPDATE: The New York Times have posted an article (December 20th) entitled “$1,200 a Pound, Truffles Suffer in the Heat

Upcoming Mycological & Mycorrhizal Meetings 2012

Here’s three upcoming mycological meetings which may be of interest to you:

european nitrogen fixation conference 2012

As part of the 10th European Conference on Nitrogen Fixation held in Munich a satellite meeting called the 1st Molecular Mycorrhiza Meeting will be held over two days: Thursday, September 6th to Friday, September 7th.  The list of speakers is pretty amazing if (like me), mycorrhizae is your thing.  See here for registration and see here for abstract submission.

above & below-ground interactions meeting

The British Mycological Society will be having a meeting for Fungal Interactions on September 3rd to 6th, 2012, in Alicante, Spain.  The sessions look to be diversely balanced and focused on fungal interactions with all types of organisms.  See here for the preliminary meeting program and to register see here.

Finally, if you live in the New England area of North America (or don’t mind the travel) the first regional meeting of mycologists from the state of Massachusetts and the surround area will be held on October, 27th 2012.  It will be aptly named MassMyco.  The meeting will be held at Clark University and hosted by the Hibbett Lab.  I love these small regional meetings, so perhaps I’ll try to make the trek for this one.  Registration is not open yet, but check back soon.

Carbohydrate binding gene family expansion in the amphibian pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis

You’d have to be living under a rock – as some amphibians do – to not be aware of the massive extinction facing our vertebrate friends living within aquatic habitats.  Researchers still don’t fully understand what is causing the amphibian mass-extinction – stress from habitat loss, increased chemical concentrations in the environment, and an auto-immune degrading infection have all been proposed.  What is known is that the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis – opportunistic or not – is infecting and killing a large number of amphibians.

What is not fully understood about B. dendrobatidis is its pathogenicity and what mechanisms it employs to cause infection.  A recent paper, “Species-Specific Chitin-Binding Module 18 Expansion in the Amphibian Pathogen Batrachochyrium dendrobatidis”, published in the mBio journal by John Abramyam & Jason Stajich at UC Riverside, begins to address this pathogenicity.  As the authors point out – more than 100,000 species of fungi have been described to date and very few of them are pathogenic.  This means that the ability to be pathogenic is derived from somewhere: genome expansion events, gene family duplication and diversification events – and we’re only starting to understand horizontal gene transfer events in fungi. This paper addresses the expansion of a gene family across two B. dendrobatidis genomes that are associated with pathogenicity.

When comparing the genomes of B. dendrobatidis with the genomes from other chytrid fungi there has been an expansion of genes within the family Carbohydrate-Binding Module Family 18 (CBM18).  The CBM18 family is a large group of proteins that have been implicated in other fungal pathogenic infections on both plants and animals.  The authors here question whether this interesting lineage specific expansion of CBM18 in B. dendrobatidis could be associated with the virulence of its pathogenicity on amphibians.

The authors used the CBM18 protein family domain HMM to search across the B. dendrobatidis genomes and found an increase in the number of domains when comparing it to genome of its closest relative.  When constructing phylogenetic trees of the CBM18 gene family, three monophyletic and strongly supported clades emerged.  When focusing on divergence of the protein domains, the authors determined that individual domain groups were monophyletic and showed a general pattern with regards to their genome locations.

More specifically, clades of the CBM18 family appears to possess different gene functions, some of which appear to be similar to lectins (LL), tyrosinase/catechol oxidases (TL), and chitin deacetylases (DL).  The function of these genes has yet to be experimentally determined, but the authors make some deductions based on DNA sequences.  The lectin-like genes may be involved in the sequestering of chitin, which could then be disrupting the amphibian immune response.  The tyrosinase/catechol oxidase gene family is associated with melanin synthesis, which could be disrupting the electron transport of the infected amphibians.  Lastly, chitin deacetylases may be involved in suppressing defense mechanisms in place to suppress the fungal infection of the host.  The authors plan to continue to elucidate the pathogenicity of B. dendrobatidis in an attempt to understand the ecology and evolution of its infection on amphibians.