Gene expression co-evolution between farming ants and farmed fungal crops

Hovedområde:Molecular ecology
Målgruppe:Biology, Biochemistry
Niveau:Masters, Bachelor

Background: Human farming became a sophisticated industrial process after our ancestors genetically improved the productivity of their crops during several thousand years of artificial selection and cultural evolution.

Leafcutter ants also practice farming at an industrial scale, but could only improve the efficiency of their farms by blind natural selection over time spans of millions of years.
There are remarkable functional convergences between how ants and humans improved their crops. For example, both selected for crops in which sexual reproduction is suppressed and both developed crops that are polyploid and thus have higher growth rates.

Atta and Acromyrmex leafcutter ants in Panama appear to read genetically distinct lineages of clonal fungal crops, but the differences between them appear to be more substantial when we consider whole-genome transcriptomes than when we genotype them with neutral microsatellite markers.

This suggests that it matters which kind of ant farmers rear these crops and that Atta farmers switch on other crop genes than Acromyrmex farmers.

Several projects (from 7.5 to 60 ECTS) are available to answer questions like:

-          Can we show differences in gene expression when we do controlled swaps of fungus gardens in the laboratory?
-          Do any such differences relate to particular symbiotic functions that are differentially important for Atta and Acromyrmex farming ants?
-          Is the extent of phenotypic plasticity related to the degree of functional polyploidy of the fungus-garden mycelium?

Competencies to be obtained: Ability to preform RNA-seq, PCR, RT-PCR, droplet digital PCR, RNA and DNA extraction and microsatellite marker assays


Anvendte metoder:RNA-seq, PCR, RT-PCR, droplet digital PCR, RNA and DNA extraction, microsatellite marker assays
Keywords:mutualistic synergy, transcriptomics, fungal metabolism, ant behaviour, Panama
Vejleder(e): Jacobus J. Boomsma, Morten Schiøtt