Microbiology

Genomes share shortcuts to cheese

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Science  30 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6260, pp. 525
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6260.525-a

By swapping portions of their genomes, Penicillium species optimized themselves for cheesemaking

PHOTO: © ADAM WOOLFITT/CORBIS

Making cheese requires fermentation, which means that it can be a messy business. To better understand the process at a molecular level, Ropars et al. analyzed the genomes of several Penicillium fungal species, including those used to make Roquefort and Camembert cheese. Different species shared large portions of their genomes, as much as 80 kilobases in size. The genes embedded in these shared islands helped the fungi to break down milk components more effectively and compete with other microbes. The fungi probably acquired these genomic islands through horizontal gene transfer rather than by reproducing. During the centuries that humans have been selecting fungi to make better cheese, the fungi have apparently been passing notes under the table to get the job done.

Curr. Biol. 25, 2562 (2015).

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