Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Beewolves have been successfully using the same antibiotics for 68 million years

13.02.2018

Insects have their own antibiotics, which provide natural protection against germs. Scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena have now found that beewolves, unlike humans, do not face the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. These insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce an antibiotic cocktail of up to 45 different substances to protect their offspring against mold fungi. The researchers not only discovered that the number of antibiotic substances is much higher than previously thought, they also proved that the cocktail has remained stable since the symbiosis emerged, about 68 million years ago.

The discovery of penicillin about 90 years ago and the widespread introduction of antibiotics to combat infectious diseases have revolutionized human medicine. However, in recent decades, the increase in multidrug-resistant pathogens has confronted modern medicine with massive problems. Insects have their own antibiotics, which provide natural protection against germs.


A female of the beewolf species Philanthus basilaris at its nest entrance, Utah, USA. Three genera of these solitary wasps cultivate Streptomyces symbionts that protect the wasps’ offspring.

Martin Kaltenpoth / Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (JGU)


By means of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) the distribution of symbiotic Streptomyces bacteria in the antennal secretions of a female European beewolf (P. triangulum) can be visualized.

Martin Kaltenpoth / Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (JGU)

A team of scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena have now found that beewolves, unlike humans, do not face the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. These insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce an antibiotic cocktail of up to 45 different substances within a single species to protect their offspring against mold fungi.

The researchers not only discovered that the number of antibiotic substances is much higher than previously thought, they also proved that the cocktail has remained surprisingly stable since the symbiosis emerged, about 68 million years ago (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, February 2018).

Beewolves are solitary digger wasps that carry paralyzed bees into their underground brood cells; these serve as a food supply for their offspring. After the larvae hatch from the eggs, they feed on the bees and then hibernate in a cocoon in the ground. While hibernating, they are constantly endangered by fast-growing mold fungi whose spores are omnipresent in the soil.

To protect their young, beewolves have not only developed their own defense mechanisms, they also rely on the chemical arsenal of microorganisms. Adult females breed bacteria of the genus Streptomyces in their antennae and deposit these bacteria to the walls of the brood cells in which their larvae develop. When a larva spins its cocoon, it weaves the Streptomyces into the cocoon silk. Because the bacteria produce a cocktail of different antibiotic substances, a protective layer is formed which prevents mold fungi from entering the cocoon and infecting the larva.

In the present study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the scientists from Mainz and Jena showed that the protective symbiosis between beewolves and their bacterial partners has not only existed since the Cretaceous (see also our press release, “Faithful allies since the Cretaceous,” April 15, 2014, http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/index.php?id=1085&L=0); moreover, the antibiotic protection offered by the bacteria against pathogens has changed very little since it evolved about 68 million years ago.

All of the studied beewolf species use very similar mixtures of antibiotics - basically, modifications of only two structures: streptochlorine and piericidin. “We had expected that some beewolf symbionts evolved new antibiotics to complement their arsenal over the course of evolution in order to help their hosts combat new or resistant mold fungi,” Tobias Engl from Mainz University, the first author of the study, said. However, the original antibiotic cocktail must have been so effective that it did not need to change. An especially important property from the start was possibly that the mixture was effective against a wide variety of fungi, as no specialized pathogens in beewolves are known to have evolved resistance to these antibiotics.

The broad protection offered by the antibiotic cocktail against a variety of mold fungi is probably related to the large number of substances produced by the bacterial symbionts. Because most of these substances can be traced back to a single gene cluster, the scientists also studied the molecular reasons for the diversity of products. They identified several key biosynthetic steps and discovered that the enzymes of the symbiotic Streptomyces worked less selectively than those of free-living bacteria.

This lack of specificity allows the enzymes to bind to different chemical precursors, which is the reason for a larger number of products. In addition, the direct end-product of the piericidin biosynthesis is modified in multiple ways. The result is a multitude of antibiotic substances which are found in varying amounts in the different beewolf species. The geographical pattern of the relative amounts of single substances suggests that the antibiotics allow beewolves to adapt to a certain degree to local mold communities.

Beewolves and their symbiont-produced antibiotics are likely exposed to different selective pressures than humans. Human pathogens gain enormous advantage by becoming resistant to common antibiotics. They can use this advantage effectively, because they are transmitted from person to person and, in our globalized world, even from country to country. They spread easily in hospitals, where many people, often with compromised immune systems, live together in close proximity.

“Beewolves, in contrast, are usually found in small populations and frequently relocate, because they rely on open sandy grounds to build their burrows,” Martin Kaltenpoth, who headed a Max Planck Research Group in Jena until he became Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in Mainz in 2015, explained. “Hence resistant pathogens have little opportunity to spread within or between populations.”

Perhaps this is the reason why no resistant microorganisms are known to have specialized on beewolves. It seems most important for beewolves to have a defense which is efficient against a broad and constantly changing spectrum of mold fungi. The selective process that favored broad-spectrum activity over adaptation to specialized pathogens likely influenced the development of the antibiotic cocktail and led to it remaining mostly unchanged for millions of years.

Original Publication:
Engl, T., Kroiss, J., Kai, M., Nechitaylo, T., Svatoš, A., Kaltenpoth, M. (2018). Evolutionary stability of antibiotic protection in a defensive symbiosis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, DOI 10.1073/pnas.1719797115
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1719797115

Further Information:
Dr. Tobias Engl, Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Johann-Joachim-Becher-Weg 13, 55128 Mainz, Tel. +49 6131 39 23572, E-Mail: tengl@uni-mainz.de
Prof. Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth, Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Johann-Joachim-Becher-Weg 13, 55128 Mainz, Tel. +49 6131 3924411, E-Mail mkaltenpoth@uni-mainz.de


Contact and Media Requests:
Angela Overmeyer M.A., Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Str. 8, 07743 Jena, +49 3641 57-2110, E-Mail overmeyer@ice.mpg.de

Download of high resolution images via http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/downloads2018.html

Angela Overmeyer | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

Further reports about: Evolutionary Max-Planck-Institut antibiotic cocoon ecology Ökologie

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View
22.06.2018 | University of Sussex

nachricht New cellular pathway helps explain how inflammation leads to artery disease
22.06.2018 | Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>