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


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)