New Research Explores Bacteria's Role In Leafcutter Ants' Gardens
Leafcutter Ants are known for cutting leaves and carrying them as they march across tropical forests. However, this process is much more complex than it sounds. The story was this: Ants would eat the fungi and bacteria would be involved but the bacteria's role was never clear in this process... until now. New research has proven that the bacteria decomposes leaves, playing a major role in turning the leaves into nutrients which is important for buth fungi and ants.
The ants brought leaves to their underground nests and from the leaves grew fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorous which was thought to be the ants source of nutrition. Incorporating bacteria into this relationship was hard.
Researchers sequenced large genetic samples which allowed them to better examine the entire community of bacteria. From the bacteria, they examined proteins. Most of the garden bacteria were involved in breaking down simple sugars, indicating that perhaps fungi initially breaks down cellulose and the bacteria, in return partially digesting sugars that result in a variety of nutrients.
"It's apparent that neither fungi nor bacteria work in isolation when it comes to leafcutter ant gardens, ... it's possible that the same goes for biomass conversion; perhaps both fungi and bacteria are needed to efficiently turn plants into biofuel." said Burnum, one of the co-authors of Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.