Biological Significance of Truffle Secondary Metabolites

  • Richard Splivallo
Part of the Soil Biology book series (SOILBIOL, volume 14)

Fungal primary and secondary metabolites have an important impact on our society. Best known as mycotoxins, phytotoxins, antibiotics and natural aromas; they represent industries worth billions of dollars. Fungi are also of major importance in terms of biomass: they rank first with an estimated dry weight of 450 kg/ha, which represents 91% of the total soil biomass (microflora and microfauna) (Müller and Loeffler 1976). Yet our knowledge of the ecological significance of fungal metabolites is limited. Despite the pioneer work of Dick and Hutchinson (1966) and Hutchinson (1973) on the effect of volatile fungal metabolites on fungi and plants, this argument seems to have raised little interest in the scientific community. Since then, most studies have focused on parasitic interactions with plants (phytopathogens), while much less attention has been given to the ecological role of the metabolites of symbiotic fungi. An important group of the latter is represented by mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizas are one of the oldest associations between plants and fungi. Dating back to the early colonization of the terrestrial environment (Brundrett 2002), they are classified as endomycorrhizas (arbuscular, ericoid, orchid mycorrhizas) or ectomycorrhizas depending on their ability to penetrate the host-plant root. Truffles fall in the last category of the ectomycorrhizal fungi. Best known for the complex aroma of their hypogeous fruitbodies, truffles were already known to the Greeks and the Romans, but only reached their luxury standing in the last 20 years owing to decreasing production (Fauconnet and Delher 1998; Hall and Yun 2001) and an ever-increasing demand. Despite their high commercial value, very little is known about their biology. Indeed, the unique features of mycorrhizal fungi, from their formation to signal exchange with the surrounding environment (the rhizosphere), are still poorly understood. In addition to the compounds involved in nutritional exchanges between the host plant and the fungus, various micromolecules and macromolecules are secreted into the rhizosphere. These exudates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) play an active role in the regulation of symbiosis and interactions with other organisms, including nonhost plants.


Burnt Soil Dimethyl Trisulfide Tuber Melanosporum Black Truffle Nonhost Plant 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Splivallo
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant Biology, IPP-CNRUniversity of TorinoTorinoItaly

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