Chemical warfare between leafcutter ant symbionts and a co-evolved pathogen

Heine, Daniel, Holmes, Neil A., Worsley, Sarah F., Santos, Ana Carolina A., Innocent, Tabitha M., Scherlach, Kirstin, Patrick, Elaine H., Yu, Douglas W., Murrell, J Colin, Viera, Paulo C., Boomsma, Jacobus J., Hertweck, Christian, Hutchings, Matthew I. and Wilkinson, Barrie (2018) Chemical warfare between leafcutter ant symbionts and a co-evolved pathogen. Nature Communications, 9. ISSN 2041-1723

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Acromyrmex leafcutter ants form a mutually beneficial symbiosis with the fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorus and with Pseudonocardia bacteria. Both are vertically transmitted and actively maintained by the ants. The fungus garden is manured with freshly cut leaves and provides the sole food for the ant larvae, while Pseudonocardia cultures are reared on the ant-cuticle and make antifungal metabolites to help protect the cultivar against disease. If left unchecked, specialized parasitic Escovopsis fungi can overrun the fungus-garden and lead to colony collapse. We report that Escovopsis upregulates the production of two specialized metabolites when it infects the cultivar. These compounds inhibit Pseudonocardia and one, shearinine D, also reduces worker behavioral defences and is ultimately lethal when it accumulates in ant tissues. Our results are consistent with an active evolutionary arms race between Pseudonocardia and Escovopsis, which modifies both bacterial and behavioral defences such that colony collapse is unavoidable once Escovopsis infections escalate.

Item Type: Article
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science
Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Organisms and the Environment
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Environmental Biology
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Molecular Microbiology
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 10 May 2018 14:30
Last Modified: 12 May 2023 13:30
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04520-1

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