Project description:The fungus-growing ant-microbe mutualism is a classic example of organismal complexity generated through symbiotic association. The ants have an ancient obligate mutualism with fungi they cultivate for food. The success of the mutualism is threatened by specialized fungal parasites (Escovopsis) that consume the cultivated fungus. To defend their nutrient-rich garden against infection, the ants have a second mutualism with bacteria (Pseudonocardia), which produce antibiotics that inhibit the garden parasite Escovopsis. Here we reveal the presence of a fourth microbial symbiont associated with fungus-growing ants: black yeasts (Ascomycota; Phialophora). We show that black yeasts are commonly associated with fungus-growing ants, occurring throughout their geographical distribution. Black yeasts grow on the ants' cuticle, specifically localized to where the mutualistic bacteria are cultured. Molecular phylogenetic analyses reveal that the black yeasts form a derived monophyletic lineage associated with the phylogenetic diversity of fungus growers. The prevalence, distribution, localization and monophyly indicate that the black yeast is a fifth symbiont within the attine ant-microbe association, further exemplifying the complexity of symbiotic associations.
Project description:Serratia sp. strain FGI 94 was isolated from a fungus garden of the leaf-cutter ant Atta colombica. Analysis of its 4.86-Mbp chromosome will help advance our knowledge of symbiotic interactions and plant biomass degradation in this ancient ant-fungus mutualism.
Project description:Ants are a dominant feature of terrestrial ecosystems, yet we know little about the forces that drive their evolution. Recent findings illustrate that their diets range from herbivorous to predaceous, with "herbivores" feeding primarily on exudates from plants and sap-feeding insects. Persistence on these nitrogen-poor food sources raises the question of how ants obtain sufficient nutrition. To investigate the potential role of symbiotic microbes, we have surveyed 283 species from 18 of the 21 ant subfamilies using molecular techniques. Our findings uncovered a wealth of bacteria from across the ants. Notable among the surveyed hosts were herbivorous "turtle ants" from the related genera Cephalotes and Procryptocerus (tribe Cephalotini). These commonly harbored bacteria from ant-specific clades within the Burkholderiales, Pseudomonadales, Rhizobiales, Verrucomicrobiales, and Xanthomonadales, and studies of lab-reared Cephalotes varians characterized these microbes as symbiotic residents of ant guts. Although most of these symbionts were confined to turtle ants, bacteria from an ant-specific clade of Rhizobiales were more broadly distributed. Statistical analyses revealed a strong relationship between herbivory and the prevalence of Rhizobiales gut symbionts within ant genera. Furthermore, a consideration of the ant phylogeny identified at least five independent origins of symbioses between herbivorous ants and related Rhizobiales. Combined with previous findings and the potential for symbiotic nitrogen fixation, our results strongly support the hypothesis that bacteria have facilitated convergent evolution of herbivory across the ants, further implicating symbiosis as a major force in ant evolution.
Project description:Ants have long been renowned for their intimate mutualisms with trophobionts and plants and more recently appreciated for their widespread and diverse interactions with microbes. An open question in symbiosis research is the extent to which environmental influence, including the exchange of microbes between interacting macroorganisms, affects the composition and function of symbiotic microbial communities. Here we approached this question by investigating symbiosis within symbiosis. Ant-plant-hemipteran symbioses are hallmarks of tropical ecosystems that produce persistent close contact among the macroorganism partners, which then have substantial opportunity to exchange symbiotic microbes. We used metabarcoding and quantitative PCR to examine community structure of both bacteria and fungi in a Neotropical ant-plant-scale-insect symbiosis. Both phloem-feeding scale insects and honeydew-feeding ants make use of microbial symbionts to subsist on phloem-derived diets of suboptimal nutritional quality. Among the insects examined here, Cephalotes ants and pseudococcid scale insects had the most specialized bacterial symbionts, whereas Azteca ants appeared to consume or associate with more fungi than bacteria, and coccid scale insects were associated with unusually diverse bacterial communities. Despite these differences, we also identified apparent sharing of microbes among the macro-partners. How microbial exchanges affect the consumer-resource interactions that shape the evolution of ant-plant-hemipteran symbioses is an exciting question that awaits further research.
Project description:Transport of ADP and ATP across mitochondria is one of the primary points of regulation to maintain cellular energy homeostasis. This process is mainly mediated by adenine nucleotide translocase (ANT) located on the mitochondrial inner membrane. There are four human ANT isoforms, each having a unique tissue-specific expression pattern and biological function, highlighting their potential as drug targets for diverse clinical indications, including male contraception and cancer. In this study, we present a novel yeast-based high-throughput screening (HTS) strategy to identify compounds inhibiting the function of ANT. Yeast strains generated by deletion of endogenous proteins with ANT activity followed by insertion of individual human ANT isoforms are sensitive to cell-permeable ANT inhibitors, which reduce proliferation. Screening hits identified in the yeast proliferation assay were characterized in ADP/ATP exchange assays employing recombinant ANT isoforms expressed in isolated yeast mitochondria and Lactococcus lactis as well as by oxygen consumption rate in mammalian cells. Using this approach, closantel and CD437 were identified as broad-spectrum ANT inhibitors, whereas leelamine was found to be a modulator of ANT function. This yeast "knock-out/knock-in" screening strategy is applicable to a broad range of essential molecular targets that are required for yeast survival.
Project description:Understanding cooperation is a central challenge in biology, because natural selection should favor "free-loaders" that reap benefits without reciprocating. For interspecific cooperation (mutualism), most approaches to this paradox focus on costs and benefits of individual partners and the strategies mutualists use to associate with beneficial partners. However, natural selection acts on lifetime fitness, and most mutualists, particularly longer-lived species interacting with shorter-lived partners (e.g., corals and zooxanthellae, tropical trees and mycorrhizae) interact with multiple partner species throughout ontogeny. Determining how multiple partnerships might interactively affect lifetime fitness is a crucial unexplored link in understanding the evolution and maintenance of cooperation. The tropical tree Acacia drepanolobium associates with four symbiotic ant species whose short-term individual effects range from mutualistic to parasitic. Using a long-term dataset, we show that tree fitness is enhanced by partnering sequentially with sets of different ant symbionts over the ontogeny of a tree. These sets include a "sterilization parasite" that prevents reproduction and another that reduces tree survivorship. Trees associating with partner sets that include these "parasites" enhance lifetime fitness by trading off survivorship and fecundity at different life stages. Our results demonstrate the importance of evaluating mutualism within a community context and suggest that lifespan inequalities among mutualists may help cooperation persist in the face of exploitation.
Project description:Complex interspecies relationships are widespread among metazoans, but the evolutionary history of these lifestyles is poorly understood. We describe a fossil beetle in 99-million-year-old Burmese amber that we infer to have been a social impostor of the earliest-known ant colonies. Promyrmister kistneri gen. et sp. nov. belongs to the haeteriine clown beetles (Coleoptera: Histeridae), a major clade of 'myrmecophiles'-specialized nest intruders with dramatic anatomical, chemical and behavioral adaptations for colony infiltration. Promyrmister reveals that myrmecophiles evolved close to the emergence of ant eusociality, in colonies of stem-group ants that predominate Burmese amber, or with cryptic crown-group ants that remain largely unknown at this time. The clown beetle-ant relationship has been maintained ever since by the beetles host-switching to numerous modern ant genera, ultimately diversifying into one of the largest radiations of symbiotic animals. We infer that obligate behavioral symbioses can evolve relatively rapidly, and be sustained over deep time.
Project description:The frequency and the geographical extent of symbiotic associations between ants and fungi of the order Chaetothyriales have been highlighted only recently. Using a phylogenetic approach based on seven molecular markers, we showed that ant-associated Chaetothyriales are scattered through the phylogeny of this order. There was no clustering according to geographical origin or to the taxonomy of the ant host. However, strains tended to be clustered according to the type of association with ants: strains from ant-made carton and strains from plant cavities occupied by ants ('domatia') rarely clustered together. Defining molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs) with an internal transcribed spacer sequence similarity cut-off of 99% revealed that a single MOTU could be composed of strains collected from various ant species and from several continents. Some ant-associated MOTUs also contained strains isolated from habitats other than ant-associated structures. Altogether, our results suggest that the degree of specialization of the interactions between ants and their fungal partners is highly variable. A better knowledge of the ecology of these interactions and a more comprehensive sampling of the fungal order are needed to elucidate the evolutionary history of mutualistic symbioses between ants and Chaetothyriales.
Project description:In most seed plants, leaf size is isometrically related to stem cross-sectional area, a relationship referred to as Corner's rule. When stems or leaves acquire a new function, for instance in ant-plant species with hollow stems occupied by ants, their scaling is expected to change. Here we use a lineage of epiphytic ant-plants to test how the evolution of ant-nesting structures in species with different levels of symbiotic dependence has impacted leaf/stem scaling. We expected that leaf size would correlate mostly with climate, while stem diameter would change with domatium evolution. Using a trait dataset from 286 herbarium specimens, field and greenhouse observations, climatic data, and a range of phylogenetic-comparative analyses, we detected significant shifts in leaf/stem scaling, mirroring the evolution of specialized symbioses. Our analyses support both predictions, namely that stem diameter change is tied to symbiosis evolution (ant-nesting structures), while leaf size is independently correlated with rainfall variables. Our study highlights how independent and divergent selective pressures can alter allometry. Because shifts in scaling relationships can impact the costs and benefits of mutualisms, studying allometry in mutualistic interactions may shed unexpected light on the stability of cooperation among species.