Investigating the evolution of the truffle-like habit

Project Summary

The truffle-like habit (hypogeal and enclosed spore-bearing tissue) is thought to be an adaptation by fungi with emergent (above ground) fruiting bodies to reduce desiccation and thus increase spore survival. Greater climate variability and lower predictability may also have favored the evolution of the truffle-like habit. Ectomycorrhizal fungi are crucial partners of the majority of plant species, including tree species of economic significance, providing them with nutrients and water from the soil in exchange for sugars from photosynthesis. Saprotrophic fungi are central to the cycling of carbon and its incorporation into soils. Due to their better adaptation to drier climatic regimes and climate variability, truffle-like ECM and saprotrophic fungi are crucial for the resilience of ecosystems to climatic fluctuations and thus their capacity for carbon sequestration as well as the productivity of green energy crops.

The truffle-like habit has arisen independently in all major lineages of fungi that contain species with mushroom-like fruit bodies. The genetic determinants of the truffle-like habit are unknown. Worldwide, there have been at least 60 independent transitions from mushroom-like to truffle-like forms. Australia, which frequently experiences long periods of drought and variable weather, is a global hotspot for diversity of truffle-like Basidiomycota.

We will sequence and determine the transcriptome of 12 pairs of truffle-like and mushroom-like fungal cousins (phylogenetically very closely related) with the objective of identifying the molecular pathways and their modifications that gave rise to the truffle-like adaptation. For each species pair, we will extract DNA and RNA from fruiting body primordia and mycelium or an appropriate comparison tissue (ie. stipe).

This project will increase our:

  1. Understanding how the sequestrate habit has arisen is key to understanding how ECM lineages have adapted to past climate change.

  2. Increased understanding of basidiomycete truffle-like biology

  3. Ectomycorrhizal fungi provide sustainable nutrition benefits to bio-energy plantations and forests

  • Project team

  • Teresa Lebel, Tom May [Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria]
  • Chris Brown, Andy Nilsen, Te-Yuan Chyou, Tina Summerfield, David Orlovich [University of Otago]
  • Jonathan Plett [Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment]
  • Igor Grigoriev, William Andreopoulos, Alicia Clum Anna Lipzen Alan Kuo Vivian Ng [DOE Joint Genome Institute]
  • Pam Catcheside [State Herbarium of South Australia]
  • Leigh Burgoyne, David Catcheside [Flinders University]


  • DOE Joint Genome Institute
  • RBGV


Lebel T., Castellano M.A., Cooper J., Catcheside D., Hosaka K., Halling R., Orlovich D. 2018. Australasian Truffle-like fungi: patterns of richness, evolution and diversification. International Mycological Congress, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 16-21 July 2018. (Talk)

Catcheside D., Lebel T., Nilsen A., Catcheside P., May T., Orlovich D. 2018. Poster Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar, AND DOE Joint Genome Institute Conference, Berkeley, USA.

Brown C., Plett J., Chyou T., Lebel T, Nilsen A., May T., Andreopoulos W., Clum A., Lipzen A., Kuo A., Ng V., Catcheside P., Summerfield T., Burgoyne L, Grigoriev I., Orlovich D.,  Catcheside D. 2019. Acquisition of the sequestrate (truffle-like) habit by basidiomycete macrofungi. Poster. Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar, USA.