Ants that tend and harvest gardens of fungus have a secret weapon against the parasites that invade their crops: antibiotic-producing bacteria that the insects harbor on their bodies.
Writing today in the journal Science, an international team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison bacteriologist Cameron Currie illustrates the intricate and ancient nature of this mutualistic relationship. The researchers found that the ants house the bacteria in specialized, highly adapted cavities and nourish them with glandular secretions-an indication that the ants, bacteria, fungus and parasites have likely been evolving together for tens of millions of years.
"Every ant species [that we have examined] has different, highly modified structures to support different types of bacteria," says Currie. "This indicates the ants have rapidly adapted to maintain the bacteria. It also indicates that the co-evolution between the bacteria and the ants, as well as the fungus and parasites, has been occurring since very early on, apparently for tens of millions of years."
Cameron Currie | EurekAlert!
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