I'm here for 2 months to assemble the genome of Elaphomyces granulatus, the "false-truffle" producing, ectomycorrhizal species which is a host for my study organism, Elaphocordyceps ophioglossoides. The sequence data that I have for this truffle, E. granulatus, is in some ways a metagenome because sporocarp or fruiting body tissue was used for sequencing as this species does not grow in culture. Because members of the Martin group have experience assembling this type of genomic data from sporocarp (from the white truffle or Tuber magnatum), I am here to learn the assembly techniques they are using. Some of things we hope to examine from this assembly are to determine what kind of bacterial community is associated with E. granulatus, compare the genome structure and content to other sequenced ascomycotan ectomycorrhizal species (e.g. Tuber spp.), and determine if there is any evidence for horizontal gene transfer between the truffle host and Elaphocordyceps pathogen.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to join Francis, Claude Murat, and their colleagues for a day examining some field sites and "trufficulture" or the practice of propagating truffles in tree plantations for the sake of harvesting truffles. In the photo you can see a Hazelnut orchard, planted 24 years ago for the purpose of growing truffles (and the sweetest truffle dog you'll ever meet, on the left). Some of the trees now produce Tuber aestivum var. mesentericum, but the managers (working with Francis and Claude) have learned a lot in the past couple of decades about the kinds of conditions that seem to favor truffle production in the area, such as the density of trees, watering regime, etc. And Claude is the first author on a nice paper coming out soon examining genetic structure and mating type distribution of Tuber melanosporum at one of the sites we visited.