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Genetic analysis reveals history, evolution of an ancient delicacy -- morels
Date:3/3/2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. Dinosaurs squashed them with impunity. Thousands of species that lacked culinary appreciation have turned up their noses at them. And a study based on advanced DNA analysis has shown that this shameful indifference went on for 129 million years.

Finally, however, one animal species came along that would learn to appreciate this particular fungus with almost a global reverence homo sapiens. Thus was born the human affection for the morel for millions of people around the world, it's what you mean when you say "mushroom hunting."

Spring is coming soon, and with it the timeless quest for morels. For some, it's almost a way of life.

Nancy Weber, a researcher with the College of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, has had a lifelong love affair with the morel.

Her parents took her on her first mushroom hunt in the Michigan woods at the age of six months. Presumably they sat her down in front of a morel, wiped the drool from the corner of her mouth and said, "Now pay attention, Nancy. This is important. This is what you look for."

"Morels probably became so prized because of their distinctive appearance, which almost anyone can learn to recognize," Weber said. "That means you're not apt to pick a poison mushroom. But for a lot of people, mushroom hunting becomes part of your life, stories you tell around a campfire, a favorite picking spot whose location you hide like a great fishing hole."

Weber was part of a research team that has published one of the most detailed genetic analyses ever done on morels, to help identify their ancestry, show how they evolved and what conservation policies may be needed to manage and protect this valuable resource.

Among other things, they concluded that morels have been around for a lot, lot, longer than people have true morels split off from all other fungal species 129 million years ago, during the beginning of the Cretaceou
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Contact: Nancy Weber
nancy.weber@oregonstate.edu
541-737-8593
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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