U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

A Fungal Garden’s Microbial Makeup
Published: November 18, 2014
Posted: January 12, 2015

Leafcutter ants (Atta cephalotes) are of interest to bioenergy researchers because they farm gardens made up of communities of bacteria and fungi that break down plant biomass. Beetles and termites have similar symbiotic relationships with microbial communities in the gardens they cultivate for food, suggesting that different insect hosts have exploited microbes more than once as a strategy for breaking down biomass. In a recent collaboration, scientists from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and DOE Joint Genome Institute used genomic techniques to analyze the composition of microbial communities in these fungal gardens. They found that regardless of their geographic location, these gardens have a similar microbial makeup. The high whole-genome similarity across distantly related insect hosts that reside thousands of miles apart shows that these bacteria are an important and underappreciated feature of diverse, fungus-growing insects. Because of the similarities in the agricultural lifestyles of these insects, this is an example of convergence between both the life histories of the host insects and their symbiotic microbiota. These results may point the way to both bacteria and fungi that are predisposed to having genes for enzymes and pathways useful for breaking down biomass to potential bioenergy feedstock sources.

Reference: Aylward, F. O., G. Suen, P. H. W. Biedermann, A. S. Adams, J. J. Scott, S. A. Malfatti, T. Glavina del Rio, S. G. Tringe, M. Poulsen, K. F. Raffa, K. D. Klepzig, and C. R. Curriea. 2014. “Convergent Bacterial Microbiotas in the Fungal Agricultural Systems of Insects,” mBio 5(6), e02077-14. DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02077-14. (Reference link)

Contact: Kent Peters, SC-23.2, (301) 903-5549
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts
  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


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