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Gene Swapping Cheese Fungus

October 29, 2015

How the genes in cheese fungus get around.

Transcript

16047936511_d2a95b6050_z Hadrien Lanneau CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via flickr

Roquefort, aging to perfection. (Hadrien Lanneau/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via flickr)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Evolution in a cheese wheel. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Inside every block of Roquefort cheese is an experiment in genetic engineering. In the journal Current Biology, evolutionary biologist Ricardo Rodriguez de la Vega at the French National Center for Scientific Research reports that distantly related fungi that give blue cheeses their blue veins and sharp taste have been sharing genes with each other in a process called horizontal gene transfer— a random version of the targeted bioengineering conducted in laboratories.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ DE LA VEGA (French National Center for Scientific Research):

If we want to understand how genomes are evolving, we need to take into account that these big pieces of genetic information can passed through species boundaries.

HIRSHON:

He says sharing genetic material between species helped the fungi adapt more quickly to life inside a cheese. The discovery provides new insight into how many organisms may acquire traits they need to survive in hostile environments. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.