Sex in cheese

Though sometimes discussed (and perhaps sometimes observed) by cheesemakers, sex in cheese was, officially, to some extent a theoretical occurrence until the publication of this new study, which was performed in France:

Sex in Cheese: Evidence for Sexuality in the Fungus Penicillium roqueforti,” Jeanne Ropars, Joëlle Dupont, Eric Fontanillas, Ricardo C. Rodríguez de la Vega, Fabienne Malagnac, Monika Coton, Tatiana Giraud, Manuela López-Villavicencio [pictured here], PLoS ONE 7(11), November 21, 2012 e49665. The authors are variously at Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Université Paris-Sud, Orsay; Université de Brest, UEB; ESMISAB, Technopôle Brest-Iroise, Plouzan; and UFR des Sciences du Vivant, Paris. They report:

“Although most eukaryotes reproduce sexually at some moment of their life cycle, as much as a fifth of fungal species were thought to reproduce exclusively asexually. Nevertheless, recent studies have revealed the occurrence of sex in some of these supposedly asexual species…. Here, we investigated the sexual capability of the fungus Penicillium roqueforti, used as starter for blue cheese production. We present indirect evidence suggesting that recombination could be occurring in this species. The screening of a large sample of strains isolated from diverse substrates throughout the world revealed the existence of individuals of both mating types, even in the very same cheese. The MAT genes, involved in fungal sexual compatibility, appeared to evolve under purifying selection, suggesting that they are still functional. [Evidence] reinforces the conclusion that P. roqueforti underwent more or less recent sex events. In this species of high industrial importance, the induction of a sexual cycle would open the possibility of generating new genotypes that would be extremely useful to diversify cheese products.”

BONUS: A possibly exciting video about Roquefort cheese:

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