Hack the truffle - select & find its inner microbes - produce its flavors - do DIYbio!
Raphaël Laurenceau is a postdoctoral fellow at MIT and he is one of the co-founders/co-organizers at BosLab. He is leading the Truffle hacking project.
Kindly tell us more about your project?
We have called this project ‘Truffle hacking’. The idea is to produce the delicious truffle aroma molecules from bacteria instead of from the fungus. This idea came after a publication in 2015 showing that bacteria and yeast living in symbiosis within the truffle are the main contributors to making the final aromatic molecules that we humans perceive as tasting delicious. The way we proceed is by isolating bacteria and yeasts from truffles, then cultivate them in a wide range of conditions to detect some aroma producer strains. Our next goal is to identify the aroma molecules, sequence the producer strains and possibly move the enzymes responsible for this production to E. coli, or boost the truffle aroma production in the wild strain.
Who is/are part of this project (people, company etc.)?
We are a team of four people on this project: one microbiologist and three true DIY biologists that are learning all the microbiology techniques along the way.
What are the challenges you encountered?
The main challenge is time. We are not in a hurry and we do this project in our spare time as a hobby, however cells don’t wait! Very often it is necessary to start a culture for working on it a few days after, and planning all of this in extra work hours can be difficult.
How did you get the funding of this project?
For now Boslab memberships fees have paid for all the materials necessary (mostly plates, media and truffle for the beginning!), however quite soon we will definitely need to find some funding (Mass spectrometry analysis of the compounds produced, sequencing the genome of a strain, etc…). We’re confident that we will find some support for the project. Some companies have already proposed to help us.
What motivates you to create this project?
My personal motivation is for the thrill of playing with microbes, understanding how they work, and tweaking them so that they work for me. Another main motivation comes from the interaction with other DIY biologists. Whether they have experience or not, the common trait among all of us is a lot of curiosity, a fascination for biology, and all technologies coming out of it.
What equipments did you use/are using?
The first essential piece of equipment for us is the autoclave. We also use an incubator, a PCR machine, and a freezer to store our strains.
When did you started this project and when do you think it will be finished/when did you finished it?
We started almost two months ago, and we have no idea when it will finish!
What are your plans after this project?
Start another one.
(If project is not yet done) Do you think your project would be successful and useful?
I am pretty confident we will be successful in identifying truffle producing microbes. Whether we will be able to turn this finding into an easier way to produce ‘natural’ truffle aromas from microbes, that’s very hard to say. We’ll see!