Species-specific ant brain manipulation by a specialized fungal parasite.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: A compelling demonstration of adaptation by natural selection is the ability of parasites to manipulate host behavior. One dramatic example involves fungal species from the genus Ophiocordyceps that control their ant hosts by inducing a biting behavior. Intensive sampling across the globe of ants that died after being manipulated by Ophiocordyceps suggests that this phenomenon is highly species-specific. We advance our understanding of this system by reconstructing host manipulation by Ophiocordyceps parasites under controlled laboratory conditions and combining this with field observations of infection rates and a metabolomics survey. RESULTS: We report on a newly discovered species of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato from North America that we use to address the species-specificity of Ophiocordyceps-induced manipulation of ant behavior. We show that the fungus can kill all ant species tested, but only manipulates the behavior of those it infects in nature. To investigate if this could be explained at the molecular level, we used ex vivo culturing assays to measure the metabolites that are secreted by the fungus to mediate fungus-ant tissue interactions. We show the fungus reacts heterogeneously to brains of different ant species by secreting a different array of metabolites. By determining which ion peaks are significantly enriched when the fungus is grown alongside brains of its naturally occurring host, we discovered candidate compounds that could be involved in behavioral manipulation by O. unilateralis s.l.. Two of these candidates are known to be involved in neurological diseases and cancer. CONCLUSIONS: The integrative work presented here shows that ant brain manipulation by O. unilateralis s.l. is species-specific seemingly because the fungus produces a specific array of compounds as a reaction to the presence of the host brain it has evolved to manipulate. These studies have resulted in the discovery of candidate compounds involved in establishing behavioral manipulation by this specialized fungus and therefore represent a major advancement towards an understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.
Project description:The biting behavior observed in Carpenter ants infected by the specialized fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. is an example of a complex host behavioral manipulation by parasite. Though parasitic manipulation of host behavior is generally assumed to be due to the parasite’s gene expression, few studies have set out to test this. We experimentally infected Carpenter ants to collect tissue from both parasite and host during the time period when manipulated biting behavior is experienced. Upon observation of synchronized biting, samples were collected and subjected to RNA-Seq analyses. We also sequenced and annotated the O. unilateralis s.l. genome as a reference for the fungal reads. Our mixed transcriptomics approach, together with a comparative genomics study, shows that the majority of the fungal genes that are up-regulated during manipulated biting behavior are unique to the O. unilateralis s.l. genome. This study furthermore reveals that the fungal parasite might be regulating immune- and neuronal stress responses in the host during manipulated biting, as well as impairing its chemosensory communication and causing apoptosis. Moreover, we found genes up-regulated during manipulation that putatively encode for proteins with reported effects on behavioral outputs, proteins involved in various neuropathologies, and proteins involved in the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites such as alkaloids. Overall design: Analysis of mixed transcriptomes during host-parasite interactions. In triplicates, we examinated the gene expression of ant host (Camponotus castaneus) and fungal parasite (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l.) in infected ant heads during and after manipulated biting behavior. As controls, we used healthy ants and fungal cultures grown in shaking flasks with Grace's insect medium supplemented with 10% FBS.
Project description:Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is an outstanding insect fungus for its biology to manipulate host ants' behavior and for its extreme host-specificity. Through the sequencing and annotation of Ophiocordyceps polyrhachis-furcata, a species in the O. unilateralis species complex specific to the ant Polyrhachis furcata, comparative analyses on genes involved in pathogenicity and virulence between this fungus and other fungi were undertaken in order to gain insights into its biology and the emergence of host specificity.O. polyrhachis-furcata possesses various genes implicated in pathogenicity and virulence common with other fungi. Overall, this fungus possesses protein-coding genes similar to those found on other insect fungi with available genomic resources (Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium robertsii (formerly classified as M. anisopliae s.l.), Metarhizium acridum, Cordyceps militaris, Ophiocordyceps sinensis). Comparative analyses in regard of the host ranges of insect fungi showed a tendency toward contractions of various gene families for narrow host-range species, including cuticle-degrading genes (proteases, carbohydrate esterases) and some families of pathogen-host interaction (PHI) genes. For many families of genes, O. polyrhachis-furcata had the least number of genes found; some genes commonly found in other insect fungi are even absent (e.g. Class 1 hydrophobin). However, there are expansions of genes involved in 1) the production of bacterial-like toxins in O. polyrhachis-furcata, compared with other entomopathogenic fungi, and 2) retrotransposable elements.The gain and loss of gene families helps us understand how fungal pathogenicity in insect hosts evolved. The loss of various genes involved throughout the pathogenesis for O. unilateralis would result in a reduced capacity to exploit larger ranges of hosts and therefore in the different level of host specificity, while the expansions of other gene families suggest an adaptation to particular environments with unexpected strategies like oral toxicity, through the production of bacterial-like toxins, or sophisticated mechanisms underlying pathogenicity through retrotransposons.
Project description:Some microbes possess the ability to adaptively manipulate host behavior. To better understand how such microbial parasites control animal behavior, we examine the cell-level interactions between the species-specific fungal parasite Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato and its carpenter ant host (Camponotus castaneus) at a crucial moment in the parasite's lifecycle: when the manipulated host fixes itself permanently to a substrate by its mandibles. The fungus is known to secrete tissue-specific metabolites and cause changes in host gene expression as well as atrophy in the mandible muscles of its ant host, but it is unknown how the fungus coordinates these effects to manipulate its host's behavior. In this study, we combine techniques in serial block-face scanning-electron microscopy and deep-learning-based image segmentation algorithms to visualize the distribution, abundance, and interactions of this fungus inside the body of its manipulated host. Fungal cells were found throughout the host body but not in the brain, implying that behavioral control of the animal body by this microbe occurs peripherally. Additionally, fungal cells invaded host muscle fibers and joined together to form networks that encircled the muscles. These networks may represent a collective foraging behavior of this parasite, which may in turn facilitate host manipulation.
Project description:It is essential for the survival and reproduction of parasitoids to adapt to the fluctuating host resources. Phenotypic plasticity may enable a parasitoid species to successfully achieve its control over a range of host species to maximize fitness in different hosts that may each require dissimilar, possibly conflicting, specific adaptations. However, there is limited information on how the fitness effects of host switching partition into costs due to the novelty of host species, where unfamiliarity with host physiological and morphological changes and its anti-parasite defenses reduces parasitoid growth, survivorship and/or reproductive success. In this study, the parasitoid fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato was found to sympatrically infect a principal host ant species and other alternative sympatric hosts in the forest of central Taiwan. We herein report that the occurrence of ant infections by O. unilateralis s.l. shows spatial and temporal variation patterns on different host species. Results showed that the height from the ground to the leaf where the infected ants grip on, perithecia-forming ability, and growth rate of the stroma of the parasitoid fungus were dissimilar on different host species. These host range expansions not only related the fitness of O. unilateralis s.l. but also influenced the expression of extended phenotypic traits. Our findings revealed that a generalist parasitoid fungus suffered an evolutionary tradeoff between host breadth expansion and host-use efficiency.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Adaptive manipulation of animal behavior by parasites functions to increase parasite transmission through changes in host behavior. These changes can range from slight alterations in existing behaviors of the host to the establishment of wholly novel behaviors. The biting behavior observed in Carpenter ants infected by the specialized fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. is an example of the latter. Though parasitic manipulation of host behavior is generally assumed to be due to the parasite's gene expression, few studies have set out to test this. RESULTS:We experimentally infected Carpenter ants to collect tissue from both parasite and host during the time period when manipulated biting behavior is experienced. Upon observation of synchronized biting, samples were collected and subjected to mixed RNA-Seq analysis. We also sequenced and annotated the O. unilateralis s.l. genome as a reference for the fungal sequencing reads. CONCLUSIONS:Our mixed transcriptomics approach, together with a comparative genomics study, shows that the majority of the fungal genes that are up-regulated during manipulated biting behavior are unique to the O. unilateralis s.l. genome. This study furthermore reveals that the fungal parasite might be regulating immune- and neuronal stress responses in the host during manipulated biting, as well as impairing its chemosensory communication and causing apoptosis. Moreover, we found genes up-regulated during manipulation that putatively encode for proteins with reported effects on behavioral outputs, proteins involved in various neuropathologies and proteins involved in the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites such as alkaloids.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Parasites that manipulate host behavior can provide prominent examples of extended phenotypes: parasite genomes controlling host behavior. Here we focus on one of the most dramatic examples of behavioral manipulation, the death grip of ants infected by Ophiocordyceps fungi. We studied the interaction between O. unilateralis s.l. and its host ant Camponotus leonardi in a Thai rainforest, where infected ants descend from their canopy nests down to understory vegetation to bite into abaxial leaf veins before dying. Host mortality is concentrated in patches (graveyards) where ants die on sapling leaves ca. 25 cm above the soil surface where conditions for parasite development are optimal. Here we address whether the sequence of ant behaviors leading to the final death grip can also be interpreted as parasite adaptations and describe some of the morphological changes inside the heads of infected workers that mediate the expression of the death grip phenotype. RESULTS: We found that infected ants behave as zombies and display predictable stereotypical behaviors of random rather than directional walking, and of repeated convulsions that make them fall down and thus precludes returning to the canopy. Transitions from erratic wandering to death grips on a leaf vein were abrupt and synchronized around solar noon. We show that the mandibles of ants penetrate deeply into vein tissue and that this is accompanied by extensive atrophy of the mandibular muscles. This lock-jaw means the ant will remain attached to the leaf after death. We further present histological data to show that a high density of single celled stages of the parasite within the head capsule of dying ants are likely to be responsible for this muscular atrophy. CONCLUSIONS: Extended phenotypes in ants induced by fungal infections are a complex example of behavioral manipulation requiring coordinated changes of host behavior and morphology. Future work should address the genetic basis of such extended phenotypes.
Project description:The type of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (Ophiocordycipitaceae, Hypocreales, Ascomycota) is based on an immature specimen collected on an ant in Brazil. The host was identified initially as a leaf-cutting ant (Atta cephalotes, Attini, Myrmicinae). However, a critical examination of the original illustration reveals that the host is the golden carpenter ant, Camponotus sericeiventris (Camponotini, Formicinae). Because the holotype is no longer extant and the original diagnosis lacks critical taxonomic information - specifically, on ascus and ascospore morphology - a new type from Minas Gerais State of south-east Brazil is designated herein. A re-description of the fungus is provided and a new phylogenetic tree of the O. unilateralis clade is presented. It is predicted that many more species of zombie-ant fungi remain to be delimited within the O. unilateralis complex worldwide, on ants of the tribe Camponotini.
Project description:Some parasites have evolved the ability to adaptively manipulate host behavior. One notable example is the fungus <i>Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato</i>, which has evolved the ability to alter the behavior of ants in ways that enable fungal transmission and lifecycle completion. Because host mandibles are affected by the fungi, we focused on understanding changes in the metabolites of muscles during behavioral modification. We used High-Performance Liquid Chromatography-Mass/Mass (HPLC-MS/MS) to detect the metabolite difference between controls and <i>O. unilateralis</i>-infected ants. There was a significant difference between the global metabolome of <i>O. unilateralis</i>-infected ants and healthy ants, while there was no significant difference between the <i>Beauveria bassiana</i> treatment ants group compared to the healthy ants. A total of 31 and 16 of metabolites were putatively identified from comparisons of healthy ants with <i>O. unilateralis</i>-infected ants and comparisons of <i>B. bassiana</i> with <i>O. unilateralis</i>-infected samples, respectively. This result indicates that the concentrations of sugars, purines, ergothioneine, and hypoxanthine were significantly increased in <i>O. unilateralis</i>-infected ants in comparison to healthy ants and <i>B. bassiana</i>-infected ants. This study provides a comprehensive metabolic approach for understanding the interactions, at the level of host muscles, between healthy ants and fungal parasites.
Project description:Much can be gained from revealing the mechanisms fungal entomopathogens employ. Especially intriguing are fungal parasites that manipulate insect behavior because, presumably, they secrete a wealth of bioactive compounds. To gain more insight into their strategies, we compared the genomes of five ant-infecting Ophiocordyceps species from three species complexes. These species were collected across three continents, from five different ant species in which they induce different levels of manipulation. A considerable number of (small) secreted and pathogenicity-related proteins were only found in these ant-manipulating Ophiocordyceps species, and not in other ascomycetes. However, few of those proteins were conserved among them, suggesting that several different methods of behavior modification have evolved. This is further supported by a relatively fast evolution of previously reported candidate manipulation genes associated with biting behavior. Moreover, secondary metabolite clusters, activated during biting behavior, appeared conserved within a species complex, but not beyond. The independent co-evolution between these manipulating parasites and their respective hosts might thus have led to rather diverse strategies to alter behavior. Our data indicate that specialized, secreted enterotoxins may play a major role in one of these strategies.
Project description:The natural histories of various parasite-host interactions that involve adaptive manipulation of host behavior describe a time-of-day synchronization of certain events. One example is the manipulated biting behavior observed in Carpenter ants infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato. Field observations in Thailand demonstrated that manipulated biting takes place around solar noon. Laboratory work with species from South Carolina, demonstrated a shift of this synchronized biting event to the early morning. We therefore hypothesize that biological clocks play an important role in these and other parasite-host interactions. To set the stage for our future research into this, we, here, aimed to explore if fungal species of the complex O. unilateralis s.l. have a functional molecular clock. We, therefore, performed RNA-Seq on time course samples of the recently sequenced species Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae. Fungal blastospores grown in liquid media were harvested under cycling light-dark and continuous darkness conditions. Rhythmic mRNA levels were assessed with JTK_CYCLE. We found that O. kimflemingiae is not hugely rhythmic under our sampling conditions, but rhythmicity can be observed. Moreover, we identified functional homologs of known clock genes. In addition, our data indicated that regulation of transcription appears to take place during the light phase (day time). In contrast, the expression levels of a significant number of secreted enzymes, proteases, toxins and small bioactive compounds peaked during the dark phase (night time). This suggests that this fungal parasite might indeed rely on biological clocks for the precise daily timing of certain events and additionally validates further research into this. Overall design: Samples were taken of O. kimflemingiae cultures at 4h intervals both under light cycling (LD) and constant darkness (DD) conditions. These samples were used for RNA-Seq and gene expression was analyzed for rhythmicity with a circa 24h period. For each sampled time point one replicate was generated. Part of the data was verified with RT-QPCR.