Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ants Protect Acacia Plants Against Pathogens

15.01.2014
Researchers discover an additional level of this insect-plant symbiosis.

The presence of ants greatly reduces bacterial abundance on surfaces of leaves and has a visibly positive effect on plant health. Study results indicate that symbiotic bacteria colonizing the ants inhibit pathogen growth on the leaves.


Leaves of Acacia hindsii plants colonized by mutualistic (left) or parasitic ants (right).

Marcia González-Teuber / Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology


Mutualistic Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus ants on an acacia plant.

Martin Heil / CINVESTAV, Irapuata, Mexico

The biological term “symbiosis” refers to what economists and politicians usually call a win-win situation: a relationship between two partners which is beneficial to both.

The mutualistic association between acacia plants and the ants that live on them is an excellent example: The plants provide food and accommodation in the form of food bodies and nectar as well as hollow thorns which can be used as nests.

The ants return this favor by protecting the plants against herbivores. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have now found that ants also keep harmful leaf pathogens in check.

The presence of ants greatly reduces bacterial abundance on surfaces of leaves and has a visibly positive effect on plant health. Study results indicate that symbiotic bacteria colonizing the ants inhibit pathogen growth on the leaves. (New Phytologist, January 6, 2014, doi: 10.1111/nph.12664)

Myrmecophytes are plants which live in a symbiotic relationship with ants. The acacia species Acacia hindsii, which is native to tropical dry forests in Central America, is such a myrmecophyte. Its inhabitants are ants of the genus Pseudomyrmex. The ants depend completely on their host plants for nectar and the food bodies rich in proteins and lipids which they require. The acacia also provides shelter, the so-called domatia, in the hollows of its swollen thorns.

In return for room and board, mutualistic Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus ants become bodyguards, protecting their host against herbivores and competing plants. However, some ants also benefit from the plant’s services without giving anything in return, such as the parasitic ant species Pseudomyrmex gracilis.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology have now looked more deeply into the insect-plant interaction, asking whether the tiny bodyguards also provide protection against microbial pathogens. They compared the leaves of acacia plants which were inhabited by either mutualistic or parasitic ants to leaves from which ants had been removed. Intriguingly, the leaves of acacia colonized by parasitic ants showed more leaf damage from herbivores and microbial pathogens than did the leaves that had mutualistic ants. The presence of the right symbiotic partner seemed to have a positive effect on the plant’s health.

Analysis of the surfaces of the leaves revealed that the number of plant pathogens as well as of necrotic plant tissues increased considerably when mutualistic Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus ants were absent. These plants also showed strong immune responses in the form of an increased concentration of salicylic acid, a plant hormone which regulates defense against pathogens. Detailed analysis of the bacterial composition on the surfaces of the leaves suggested that the presence of mutualistic ants changed the bacterial populations and reduced harmful pathogens. Although far less pronounced, this effect could also be observed in parasitic ants.

How antimicrobial protection is transferred from ants to plant is still unclear. Chilean researcher Marcia González-Teuber, first author of the publication, suspected that microorganisms associated with the ants might play a role. Because acacia leaves are touched mainly by ants’ legs, she extracted the legs of mutualistic and parasitic ants and tested the effect of the extracts on the growth of bacterial pathogens in the lab. Plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae was sensitive to the application of leg extracts of both ant species and its growth was inhibited. In the next step, the scientist isolated and identified bacteria from the legs of the ants. In lab tests, bacterial strains of the genera Bacillus, Lactococcus, Pantoea and Burkholderia effectively inhibited the growth of Pseudomonas bacteria isolated from infected acacia leaves. Interestingly, some of the bacterial genera associated with the ants are known to produce antibiotic substances.

The Jena researchers have thus added another level of interaction to the symbiosis between ants and their host plants. “Such mutualistic relationships are much more complex than previously thought. In the future, we will have to include bacteria and other microorganisms in our considerations,” says Wilhelm Boland, head of the Department of Bioorganic Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute. Studies on symbiotic relationships between ants and myrmecophytic plants should not overlook the role of bacterial partners that help the ants protect “their” plants. [AO]

Original Publication:
González-Teuber, M., Kaltenpoth, M., Boland, W. (2014). Mutualistic ants as an indirect defence against leaf pathogens. New Phytologist, DOI 10.1111/nph.12664

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nph.12664

Further Information:
Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Boland, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, E-Mail boland@ice.mpg.de, Tel.: +49 3641 57 1201
Contact and Picture Requests:
Angela Overmeyer M.A., Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Str. 8, 07743 Jena, +49 3641 57-2110, overmeyer@ice.mpg.de

Download of high-resolution images via http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/735.html

Angela Overmeyer | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/1057.html?&L=0

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Identifying drug targets for leukaemia
02.05.2016 | The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

nachricht A cell senses its own curves: New research from the MBL Whitman Center
29.04.2016 | Marine Biological Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: 2+1 is Not Always 3 - In the microworld unity is not always strength

If a person pushes a broken-down car alone, there is a certain effect. If another person helps, the result is the sum of their efforts. If two micro-particles are pushing another microparticle, however, the resulting effect may not necessarily be the sum their efforts. A recent study published in Nature Communications, measured this odd effect that scientists call “many body.”

In the microscopic world, where the modern miniaturized machines at the new frontiers of technology operate, as long as we are in the presence of two...

Im Focus: Tiny microbots that can clean up water

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute Stuttgart have developed self-propelled tiny ‘microbots’ that can remove lead or organic pollution from contaminated water.

Working with colleagues in Barcelona and Singapore, Samuel Sánchez’s group used graphene oxide to make their microscale motors, which are able to adsorb lead...

Im Focus: ORNL researchers discover new state of water molecule

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of...

Im Focus: Bionic Lightweight Design researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute at Hannover Messe 2016

Honeycomb structures as the basic building block for industrial applications presented using holo pyramid

Researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) will introduce their latest developments in the field of bionic lightweight design at Hannover Messe from 25...

Im Focus: New world record for fullerene-free polymer solar cells

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This work is about avoiding costly and unstable fullerenes.

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The “AC21 International Forum 2016” is About to Begin

27.04.2016 | Event News

Soft switching combines efficiency and improved electro-magnetic compatibility

15.04.2016 | Event News

Grid-Supportive Buildings Give Boost to Renewable Energy Integration

12.04.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Identifying drug targets for leukaemia

02.05.2016 | Life Sciences

Clay nanotube-biopolymer composite scaffolds for tissue engineering

02.05.2016 | Materials Sciences

NASA's Fermi Telescope helps link cosmic neutrino to blazar blast

02.05.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>