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The torrid secret lives of truffles make Game of Thrones look tame


Scientist

The torrid secret lives of truffles make Game of Thrones look tame

Powerful family clans. Mysterious sex lives. Constant warfare. There is more to these fascinating fungi than their distinctive flavour Life 18 December 2019 By Alison George Renaud VigourtDEEP in the forests of the north, a vicious battle is raging. For generations, rival families have fought to protect their territory at all costs. Death and destruction…

The torrid secret lives of truffles make Game of Thrones look tame

Powerful family clans. Mysterious sex lives. Constant warfare. There is more to these fascinating fungi than their distinctive flavour



Life



18 December 2019

By Alison George

mushrooms cartoons

Renaud Vigourt

DEEP in the forests of the north, a vicious battle is raging. For generations, rival families have fought to protect their territory at all costs. Death and destruction are widespread, sex is used ruthlessly for personal gain and rumours abound about the fighters’ true lineage.

It is a little like something out of HBO’s Game of Thrones, only even more gruesome. While the winners in the fictional continent of Westeros get to sit on the Iron Throne, in the forests of France and Italy, the victors are plucked, peeled and delicately grated over home-made tagliatelle. Being a truffle, it turns out, isn’t easy.

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Truffles are best known for their distinctive flavour and extravagant price, but there is more to them than their gastronomic appeal. Recent investigations have shown that their underground existences are far more complex than we ever imagined. “Truffle reproduction is very bizarre,” says Marc-André Selosse at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris. For one thing, we still don’t know exactly how they pull it off. Truffles live in powerful family clans that exclude their rivals, where the mothers seem to hold all the power and the fathers are nowhere to be found.

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Working out why they live as they do won’t just shed light on the subterranean life of this valuable fungus, it could finally solve a problem that has long eluded truffle-growers: how to reliably produce a crop.

Like all fungi, truffles send spores out into the world that grow to form a new generation of organisms. The knobbly lump we eat …

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