The Molecular Scent Lab – AG Splivallo


The volatile language of fungi

Some fungi are highly appreciated food products (i.e. morels, truffles) while others are toxic to humans or to plants (pathogens). We study both symbiotic and pathogenic fungi to understand how they interact with other organisms through their aroma.

As a model of symbiotic fungus, we use truffle (i.e. the Burgundy black truffle pictured below), which develops on the roots of plants such as hazel and oak. Truffle fruiting bodies are colonized by a diverse microbial community of bacteria, yeasts and guest filamentous fungi. We are currently working to understand how this microbial community influences the aroma of truffles.

As a model of plant pathogen, we investigate fungi belonging to the genus Fusarium, a major pathogen of maize (the picture above shows an infected and a non-infected maize ear). Our aim is to identify infected maize ears through volatile sensing. This approach would allow detecting and treating infected plants before the infection has created substantial damage to the crop.

Many representatives of the fungal genus Fusarium also colonize plant roots where they might act as pathogens or symptomless endophytes. We currently investigate how Fusarium species interact with plant roots through volatile signals and how this signaling affects overall plant fitness.


Selected publications:

Splivallo R, Ebeler SE (2015) Sulfur volatiles of microbial origin are key contributors to human-sensed truffle aroma. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. doi: 10.1007/s00253-014-6360-9

Molinier V, Murat C, Frochot H, Wipf D, Splivallo R (2015) Fine-scale spatial genetic structure analysis of the black truffle Tuber aestivum and its link to aroma variability. Environ Microbiol (accepted).

Becker E, Herrfurth C, Irmisch S, Köllner T, Feussner I, Karlovsky P, Splivallo R (2014) Infection of maize ears by Fusarium spp. induces the emission of volatile sesquiterpenes. J Agric Food Chem 62:5226-36

Splivallo R, Deveau A, Valdez N, Kirchhoff N, Frey-Klett P, Karlovsky P (2014) Bacteria associated with truffle-fruiting bodies contribute to truffle aroma. Environ Microbiol. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12521

Splivallo R, Valdez N, Kirchhoff N, Ona MC, Schmidt JP, Feussner I, Karlovsky P (2012) Intraspecific genotypic variability determines concentrations of key truffle volatiles. New Phytol 194, 823–835.

Splivallo R, Ottonello S, Mello A, Karlovsky P (2011) Truffle volatiles: from chemical ecology to aroma biosynthesis. New Phytol 189, 688–699.


Becker E, Splivallo R, and Karlovsky P (2013) Volatile biomarkers for the detection of mycotoxin-producing fungal pathogens in maize plants (Patent WO 2013135889 A1).

Splivallo R, and Maier C (2011) Production of natural truffle flavours from truffle mycelium (Pat. PCTIB2010052913).