Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study reveals classic symbiotic relationship between ants, bacteria

06.01.2006


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."


Furthermore, Currie adds, the fact that the species have coexisted for so long means there might be a mechanism in place to decrease the rate of antibiotic resistance - which could help address a significant problem facing modern medicine. "We can learn a lot about our own use of antibiotics from this system," he says.

Currie studies the intricate relationships between certain species of ants in central and South America, the fungus they cultivate for food, the parasite that invades the fungus, and the bacteria that the ants harbor to fight the parasite. The phenomenon is a classic example of mutually beneficial symbiosis, and Currie views it as a model system with the potential to shed light on the way other organisms interact.

Although the ants and their fungus gardens had been closely studied for dozens of years, Currie was the first scientist to identify the crucial role of bacteria and the antibiotics they produce. He made a key insight that white spots on the ants, which were previously dismissed as "waxy blooms," were actually colonies of bacteria.

In the latest phase of his research, Currie, who began this study when he was at the University of Kansas, and his team removed the external blooms of bacteria from two ant species in the genus Cyphomyrmex and examined the exoskeleton beneath with a high-powered microscope. Their investigation revealed crypts attached to endocrine glands, both of which were previously unnoticed by scientists.

In fact, the crypts are specially adapted to the type of bacteria each species harbors - evidence that the ants are capable of rapidly changing to maintain their bacterial residents.

"These two species of ants are very difficult to differentiate other than through molecular analysis," says Currie. "There are almost no morphological, or physical, differences between the two. However, the crypts in the exoskeleton are distinguishable. We can actually use them to tell the two species apart."

The degree of specialization indicates that the association between the ants and the bacteria is ancient, says Currie, and likely vital to the species’ survival. The phenomenon extends beyond the two species of Cyphomyrmex to about 210 species of fungus-growing ants, which harbor many different species of a specific group of bacteria.

"For me, it shows us how little we know about natural systems and microbes in nature. Fungus-growing ants are very well studied, yet this morphological characteristic went unnoticed until now. What other organisms might be taking advantage of this type of association? What don’t we know about other systems that are not as closely studied as these ants?"

Currie’s collaborators include Michael Poulsen and Jacobus Boomsma of the University of Copenhagen, John Mendenhall of the University of Texas at Austin, and Johan Billen of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. Currie, who began this work while at the University of Kansas, is also affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Cameron Currie | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bact.wisc.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>