Until pretty recently, a big chunk of fungal species were thought to reproduce without sex–until people really started to look. It turns out, there’s a lot more sex going on in the fungal world (on the down-low) than people thought. And that includes fungi that are used to make delicious blue cheese. Jeanne Ropars and colleagues in France, the home of Roquefort cheese, looked at the genomes of the mold species used in this particular cheese to see what kind of funny business was going on in their snack of choice. They found much more diversity than could be explained by asexual reproduction. And even more telling, the genes used by fungi to find mating partners have been kept intact and functional by evolution, meaning there’s probably some sex going on.
Besides providing people with a lovely conversation starter at wine and cheese parties, why did these scientists want to know about the sex lives of their cheeses? Well, whether you like it or not, people love moldy cheese. It’s a huge industry; as pointed out by the authors of this study, France alone produces 56,865 tons of blue cheese every year. But with an asexually producing mold, there isn’t much room for innovation. Producing new strains of mold (in this case, Penicillium roqueforti) relies on luck. Cheese makers have to wait for random mutations to occur and then select for strains that have qualities they like.