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1.  Leaf-cutting ant fungi produce cell wall degrading pectinase complexes reminiscent of phytopathogenic fungi 
BMC Biology  2010;8:156.
Leaf-cutting (attine) ants use their own fecal material to manure fungus gardens, which consist of leaf material overgrown by hyphal threads of the basidiomycete fungus Leucocoprinus gongylophorus that lives in symbiosis with the ants. Previous studies have suggested that the fecal droplets contain proteins that are produced by the fungal symbiont to pass unharmed through the digestive system of the ants, so they can enhance new fungus garden growth.
We tested this hypothesis by using proteomics methods to determine the gene sequences of fecal proteins in Acromyrmex echinatior leaf-cutting ants. Seven (21%) of the 33 identified proteins were pectinolytic enzymes that originated from the fungal symbiont and which were still active in the fecal droplets produced by the ants. We show that these enzymes are found in the fecal material only when the ants had access to fungus garden food, and we used quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis to show that the expression of six of these enzyme genes was substantially upregulated in the fungal gongylidia. These unique structures serve as food for the ants and are produced only by the evolutionarily advanced garden symbionts of higher attine ants, but not by the fungi reared by the basal lineages of this ant clade.
Pectinolytic enzymes produced in the gongylidia of the fungal symbiont are ingested but not digested by Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants so that they end up in the fecal fluid and become mixed with new garden substrate. Substantial quantities of pectinolytic enzymes are typically found in pathogenic fungi that attack live plant tissue, where they are known to breach the cell walls to allow the fungal mycelium access to the cell contents. As the leaf-cutting ant symbionts are derived from fungal clades that decompose dead plant material, our results suggest that their pectinolytic enzymes represent secondarily evolved adaptations that are convergent to those normally found in phytopathogens.
PMCID: PMC3022778  PMID: 21194476
2.  The introduction history of invasive garden ants in Europe: Integrating genetic, chemical and behavioural approaches 
BMC Biology  2008;6:11.
The invasive garden ant, Lasius neglectus, is the most recently detected pest ant and the first known invasive ant able to become established and thrive in the temperate regions of Eurasia. In this study, we aim to reconstruct the invasion history of this ant in Europe analysing 14 populations with three complementary approaches: genetic microsatellite analysis, chemical analysis of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and behavioural observations of aggression behaviour. We evaluate the relative informative power of the three methodological approaches and estimate both the number of independent introduction events from a yet unknown native range somewhere in the Black Sea area, and the invasive potential of the existing introduced populations.
Three clusters of genetically similar populations were detected, and all but one population had a similar chemical profile. Aggression between populations could be predicted from their genetic and chemical distance, and two major clusters of non-aggressive groups of populations were found. However, populations of L. neglectus did not separate into clear supercolonial associations, as is typical for other invasive ants.
The three methodological approaches gave consistent and complementary results. All joint evidence supports the inference that the 14 introduced populations of L. neglectus in Europe likely arose from only very few independent introductions from the native range, and that new infestations were typically started through introductions from other invasive populations. This indicates that existing introduced populations have a very high invasive potential when the ants are inadvertently spread by human transport.
PMCID: PMC2292682  PMID: 18302731

Results 1-2 (2)