Ants that carry anti fungal bacteria could be key to advances in biofuels and antibiotics

March 30th, 2009 - 8:11 pm ICT by ANI  

London, March 30 (ANI): In a new research, scientists have found that leaf-cutting ants that carry colonies of anti fungal bacteria on their bodies, contain a chemical which could help speed the quest to develop better antibiotics and biofuels.

In a mutually beneficial symbiosis, leaf-cutting ants cultivate fungus gardens, providing both a safe home for the fungi and a food source for the ants.

But, according to a report in Nature News, this 50-million-year-old relationship also includes microbes that new research shows could help speed the quest to develop better antibiotics and biofuels.

Cameron Currie, a microbial ecologist then at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, discovered ten years ago that leaf-cutting ants carry colonies of actinomycete bacteria on their bodies.

Now, Currie, Jon Clardy at the Harvard Medical School in Boston and their colleagues reported that they had isolated and purified one of these antifungals, which they named dentigerumycin, and that it is a chemical that has never been previously reported.

The antifungal slowed the growth of a drug-resistant strain of the fungus Candida albicans, which causes yeast infections in people.

Because distinct ant species cultivate different fungal crops, which in turn fall prey to specialized parasites, researchers hope that they will learn how to make better antibiotics by studying how the bacteria have adapted to fight the parasite in an ancient evolutionary arms race.

“These ants are walking pharmaceutical factories,” said Currie, now at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

According to John Taylor, a mycologist at the University of California, Berkeley, Currie’s continued scrutiny of the lives of ants provides insights into the web of interactions necessary for the survival of any single species.

“I think the coolest thing about this is that you start with one organism, and then you find more and more organisms involved in the relationship,” he said. (ANI)

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