A team of researchers from The University of Western Australia are hoping to increase the yield of the European gourmet specialty, truffles, not in Europe but here in WA.
Dr Pauline Grierson and PhD candidate Jeremy Bougoure from UWA’s Ecosystems Research Group in the School of Plant Biology plan to employ modern science to learn more about the relationship between the valuable fungus, known as black diamonds, and the roots of their host trees in Australia, oaks and hazels.
By understanding the relationship, they may be able to improve truffle production, making the loss of Rossini’s turkey less of a tragedy. Truffles currently sell for about $3,000 per kilo and throughout history have been considered precious ingredients in the world’s finest kitchens.
Dr Grierson and Mr Bougoure are working with UWA-graduate, former CSIRO scientist and director of Truffle Projects Pty Ltd, Dr Nick Malajczuk, at Hazel Hill in Manjimup.
Dr Malajczuk chose Manjimup because of its climate, which is similar to that of the truffle-growing regions of France. Over the past four years, the Hazel Hill Trufferie has produced increasing amounts of truffles, with 325 kilos harvested in the late autumn-winter of 2007.
Dr Grierson said science had rarely been applied to truffle production in Europe and the work the UWA team plan to carry out is not being tried anywhere else in the world.
A naturally occurring carbon isotope mixed with glucose will be injected into the roots of hazel trees. The isotope will act as a tracking device, allowing the team to examine the development of the truffles and their link to the host tree in minute detail.
They want to test whether there is a period during which truffles become independent of the host, a time when they might benefit from an external feed of nutrients. They will inject the isotope a number of times over several months then measure its presence in slivers of truffles in an isotope ratio mass spectrometer.
The hot summers that have affected Europe’s truffle-growing regions over the past few years have caused a decline in production. And WA, already impressing the gastronomic world with the quality and quantity of its wines and olive oils, may be set to add another key gourmet product to its list.
Dr Nick Malajczuk 0419 042 258
Dr Pauline Grierson 61 8 6488 7926