Ant/Microbe Symbiosis Conforms to Theory of Coevolution in Animals: Potential Applications in Medicine

Nov. 1, 2019

Washington, D.C. - November 1, 2019 - In Central America, certain ants farm fungus for food. The fungus frequently becomes infected by fungal parasites, and the ants work hard to maintain their farms, physically removing infected fungus. Without the symbiotic bacteria that live on the ants’ exoskeletons, these parasites could decimate the farms in less than a day. The bacteria, known as Pseudonocardia, secrete antibiotics that kill the parasites. This interaction of ants, farmed fungus, parasites, and antibiotic-producing bacteria has been going on for 50 million years.
New research shows that a theory of coevolution long known to apply to macroscopic creatures such as rabbits and foxes also applies to the ants, their symbiotic bacteria, and the parasites. The research is published this week in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
The research has numerous potential applications—in agriculture, conservation, epidemiology, and medicine, among other fields. The researchers found that as the parasites evolve to evade the bacterial antibiotics, and the antibiotic genes, in turn, evolve to maintain potency, the changes can be as subtle as differences in a few nucleotides out of the millions that code for an antibiotic’s assembly. That could lead to new approaches to overcome bacterial resistance to antibiotics against human pathogens. 

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Author: ASM Communications

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