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Biology Letters
8, No. 3, 2012; Pages: 461 - 464

Symbiotic bacteria on the cuticle of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus protect workers from attack by entomopathogenic fungi

Thalles C. Mattoso, Denise D. O. Moreira and Richard I. Samuels

Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, State University of North Fluminense, Campos dos Goytacazes, Rio de Janeiro 28013-602, Brazil.


Although only discovered in 1999, the symbiotic filamentous actinobacteria present on the integument of certain species of leaf-cutting ants have been the subject of intense research. These bacteria have been shown to specifically suppress fungal garden parasites by secretion of antibiotics. However, more recently, a wider role for these bacteria has been suggested from research revealing their generalist anti-fungal activity. Here we show, for the first time, evidence for a role of these bacteria in the defence of young worker ants against a fungal entomopathogen. Experimental removal of the bacterial bio-film using an antibiotic resulted in a significant increase in susceptibility of worker ants to infection by the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. This is the first direct evidence for the advantage of maintaining a bacterial bio-film on the cuticle as a defensive strategy of the ants themselves and not exclusively for protection of the fungus garden.

Keywords: defence mechanisms; symbiosis; pathogen; Metarhizium anisopliae; actinobacteria



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