Leaf-cutting ants, one of a few groups of social insects to cultivate crops, have harvested plant material to fertilize their underground fungal gardens for ~50 million years.
New results from the Smithsonian show that both the ants and their fungal crop actively combat fungi coming into the nest inside leaves, thus ensuring the health of their mutualism.
"When you look at a healthy tropical plant, you think you're seeing just one organism, but each leaf can have dozens of fungal species growing inside, some of which may protect the plant by excluding pathogens," explains Sunshine Van Bael, post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The fungi growing inside leaves without causing disease to the plant are called endophytes: endo-, inside, and –phyte, plant.
"We knew that leaf cutter ants practice phenomenal garden hygiene. But we wondered if the fungi in leaves might make them less attractive to ants, and thereby protect the plant from leaf cutter ant invasion. Also, since most leaves in nature have endophytic fungi, we wondered how the ants' leaf preparation process might affect the passage of endophytes into the nest."
Van Bael and colleagues used laboratory colonies of one leaf cutter ant species, Atta colombica, to test the ants' response to leaves from a tropical vine, Merremia umbellata, in which they had experimentally manipulated the densities of one fungal endophyte species, Glomerella cingulata, in order to present the ants with leaves containing either high or low levels of fungus. They also pitted 32 additional endophytic fungal strains against cultures of the garden cultivar in Petri plates to find out if they would restrict each others' growth.
Ants cut leaves that contained both high or low levels of fungi, but they took longer to cut leaves from the high endophyte treatment. Moreover, the leaf preparation process by the ants significantly lowered the amount of fungi in leaf pieces before they were placed into the fungal garden. The Petri plate experiment also showed that the garden fungus reduced the growth rate for 28 of the 32 endophytic fungal strains that were tested, with a stronger effect for more rapidly growing endophyte strains. This suggests that, apart from the hygiene practiced by the ants, the garden itself can compete with incoming microbes.
"Fungi in the leaves were not welcome in the leaf cutter ants' garden," concluded Van Bael.
Their work is published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
STRI, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.
Six-legged livestock -- sustainable food production
11.05.2017 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen
Elephant Herpes: Super-Shedders Endanger Young Animals
04.05.2017 | Universität Zürich
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy