Genetic variability is one of the major survival strategies developed by symbiotic fungi. We focused on the ectomycorrhizal fungus Tuber uncinatum Chatin that produces edible ascomata. In order to understand the degree of its variability and its relatedness to another morphologically-similar truffle, T. aestivum Vittad., ascomata of T. uncinatum were collected from a single natural truffle-ground located in the north of Italy and compared with samples from other Italian sites, as well as with T. aestivum ascomata from other European regions.
We used multi-locus approaches, such as microsatellite-primed PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and single locus markers, such as mitochondrial and nuclear ribosomal DNA on 30 samples. The results demonstrate that the level of genetic polymorphism among isolates of T. uncinatum was higher than in other Tuber species, like T. melanosporum. Neighbour-joining analyses were carried out on a binary data matrix on 12 ascomata of T. uncinatum and T. aestivum, and on 15 internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences of these species and 5 from other Tuber species. Taken together, they clustered T. uncinatum and T. aestivum in two separate groups. The mitochondrial rDNA primers, NMS1 and NMS2, were not able to differentiate morphologically related and unrelated truffles. Moreover, a pair of primers, intentionally designed to differentiate isolates of T. aestivum and T. uncinatum from other Tuber species, successfully amplified DNA from all the samples of T. aestivum and T. uncinatum considered in our analysis. In conclusion, different molecular approaches separate T. aestivum and T. uncinatum according to their spore reticulum and their taste and smell.