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A consultant working in the research and development department of quarry firm Jobu Sangyo, based in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, has developed a fungal bed capable of producing highly prized matsutake mushrooms artificially.
The DNA of the matsutake mushrooms harvested in an experiment by Kazuo Obana, 64, was tested by the Japanese Matsutake Laboratory in Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo, and certified to be identical to the DNA of matsutake found in South Korea.
The task now for Obana, who has applied for a patent for the fungal bed, is to produce artificial matsutake that are as flavorsome as matsutake occurring naturally in Japan.
Obana started trying to develop a way to produce shiitake mushrooms artificially in 1978, in response to the drastic shortage of oaks caused by constant logging.
Oaks are vital for the production of shiitake mushrooms, which are harvested from holes in hodagi--stacks of slender dry oak branches into which holes are bored and then plugged with sawdust and mushroom spores.
Obana is waiting to be granted a patent for his shiitake-producing fungal bed, which he unveiled in 2001.
Jobu Sangyo President Hiroaki Miura invited Obana to work as a consultant at his firm's research and development facility in Minanomachi, also in the prefecture, when he heard about Obana's shiitake bed and wondered whether Obana might be able to make use of the mineral-rich waste soil produced by his firm.
Obana started working seriously on the matsutake bed last year, and although it was widely believed to be impossible to produce matsutake artificially, he achieved a modest harvest of 28 mushrooms.
This year, Obana harvested more than 70 mushrooms after planting South Korean and Canadian matsutake spores in artificial mixed soil containing 40 ingredients, including pine roots, pine bark, and mosses from Japan and abroad, on April 7.
The mushrooms, which were nine centimeters long, weighed 35 grams and had caps that were five centimeters in diameter, were identified as matsutake on June 23.
Obana attributed the success of his experiment to four factors. First, he kept the fungal bed at freezing point for three months. Second, he used matsutake spores that would not cause the contents of the fungal bed to rot.
Third, he perfected a device to keep the air inside the fungal bed the same as the air outside. Fourth, he was able to use lichen to kill off unwanted bacteria in the soil without damaging the matsutake.
"It's not impossible that we'll one day be able to artificially produce large quantities of matsutake regardless of the time of year," Obana said.
Japanese matsutake are highly aromatic, but they are also fragile, which makes it hard to produce them artificially.
"The matsutake I was able to harvest are a particularly sturdy variety, but they're also pretty bland as far as fragrance is concerned," Obana said.
"By investigating short-term cultivation techniques, I hope to develop a way of producing Japanese matsutake artificially," he added.