Do termite-associated bacteria play a role in antimicrobial defense of the colony?

Målgruppe:Biology, Biochemistry
Niveau:Bachelor, Masters

Fungus-growing termites are a subfamily of higher termites that farm a mutualistic fungus, Termitomyces, as their main food source. It is cultivated on specialized, sponge-like structures (called fungal combs), which consist of a mixture of fungal hyphae and plant matter in varying stages of decomposition. In stark contrast to other fungus-growing insect mutualisms, this sophisticated agricultural society suffers virtually no specialized diseases. This is despite the high relatedness of individual termites (as full siblings), and the fact that Termitomyces is farmed in monoculture, both factors that would normally promote disease and exploitation by competitors. While opportunistic pathogens, such as an ascomycete (genus Pseudoxylaria) can be present in fungal combs, Termitomyces is only outcompeted when termites are absent. We hypothesize that, in addition to termite behavioral adaptations, termite-associated bacteria may also play a role in disease suppression by producing antimicrobial compounds.
Preliminary work has revealed a number of termite-associated bacteria with inhibitory activity against different ecologically and medically relevant pathogens. This project aims to identify and characterize the antimicrobial compounds responsible for this activity. This will involve preparation of chemical extracts of the relevant termite-associated strains, and subsequent testing of the chemical extracts in antimicrobial activity assays. This will be complemented by analysis by liquid chromatography (LC) paired with high-resolution mass spectrometry (MS), along with comparison with natural products databases such as AntiBase to identify potential antimicrobials. Depending on the results of these analyses, the project may also involve isolation of pure compounds and characterization by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

Anvendte metoder:Microbiological techniques; antimicrobial assays; chemical extraction; liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LCMS)
Keywords:Termites, Fungus-farming insects, Microbial ecology, Antimicrobial compounds, Natural products
Vejleder(e): Michael Thomas-Poulsen