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The genome sequence of the leaf-cutter ant Atta cephalotes reveals insights into its obligate symbiotic lifestyle

Suen, Garret ; Teiling, Clotilde ; Li, Lewyn ; Holt, Carson ; Abouheif, Ehab ; Bornberg-Bauer, Erich ; Bouffard, Pascal ; Caldera, Eric J ; Cash, Elizabeth and Cavanaugh, Amy , et al. (2011) In PLoS Genetics 7(2).
Abstract

Leaf-cutter ants are one of the most important herbivorous insects in the Neotropics, harvesting vast quantities of fresh leaf material. The ants use leaves to cultivate a fungus that serves as the colony's primary food source. This obligate ant-fungus mutualism is one of the few occurrences of farming by non-humans and likely facilitated the formation of their massive colonies. Mature leaf-cutter ant colonies contain millions of workers ranging in size from small garden tenders to large soldiers, resulting in one of the most complex polymorphic caste systems within ants. To begin uncovering the genomic underpinnings of this system, we sequenced the genome of Atta cephalotes using 454 pyrosequencing. One prediction from this ant's... (More)

Leaf-cutter ants are one of the most important herbivorous insects in the Neotropics, harvesting vast quantities of fresh leaf material. The ants use leaves to cultivate a fungus that serves as the colony's primary food source. This obligate ant-fungus mutualism is one of the few occurrences of farming by non-humans and likely facilitated the formation of their massive colonies. Mature leaf-cutter ant colonies contain millions of workers ranging in size from small garden tenders to large soldiers, resulting in one of the most complex polymorphic caste systems within ants. To begin uncovering the genomic underpinnings of this system, we sequenced the genome of Atta cephalotes using 454 pyrosequencing. One prediction from this ant's lifestyle is that it has undergone genetic modifications that reflect its obligate dependence on the fungus for nutrients. Analysis of this genome sequence is consistent with this hypothesis, as we find evidence for reductions in genes related to nutrient acquisition. These include extensive reductions in serine proteases (which are likely unnecessary because proteolysis is not a primary mechanism used to process nutrients obtained from the fungus), a loss of genes involved in arginine biosynthesis (suggesting that this amino acid is obtained from the fungus), and the absence of a hexamerin (which sequesters amino acids during larval development in other insects). Following recent reports of genome sequences from other insects that engage in symbioses with beneficial microbes, the A. cephalotes genome provides new insights into the symbiotic lifestyle of this ant and advances our understanding of host-microbe symbioses.

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publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
keywords
Animals, Ants/genetics, Arginine/genetics, Base Sequence, Fungi/genetics, Genome, Insect/genetics, Insect Proteins/genetics, Plant Leaves/physiology, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Serine Proteases/genetics, Symbiosis
in
PLoS Genetics
volume
7
issue
2
article number
e1002007
publisher
Public Library of Science
external identifiers
  • scopus:79952270451
  • pmid:21347285
ISSN
1553-7404
DOI
10.1371/journal.pgen.1002007
language
English
LU publication?
no
id
26f2786d-70fc-4aa8-9d83-e574c58f96dd
date added to LUP
2019-11-10 16:49:50
date last changed
2020-10-27 03:48:01
@article{26f2786d-70fc-4aa8-9d83-e574c58f96dd,
  abstract     = {<p>Leaf-cutter ants are one of the most important herbivorous insects in the Neotropics, harvesting vast quantities of fresh leaf material. The ants use leaves to cultivate a fungus that serves as the colony's primary food source. This obligate ant-fungus mutualism is one of the few occurrences of farming by non-humans and likely facilitated the formation of their massive colonies. Mature leaf-cutter ant colonies contain millions of workers ranging in size from small garden tenders to large soldiers, resulting in one of the most complex polymorphic caste systems within ants. To begin uncovering the genomic underpinnings of this system, we sequenced the genome of Atta cephalotes using 454 pyrosequencing. One prediction from this ant's lifestyle is that it has undergone genetic modifications that reflect its obligate dependence on the fungus for nutrients. Analysis of this genome sequence is consistent with this hypothesis, as we find evidence for reductions in genes related to nutrient acquisition. These include extensive reductions in serine proteases (which are likely unnecessary because proteolysis is not a primary mechanism used to process nutrients obtained from the fungus), a loss of genes involved in arginine biosynthesis (suggesting that this amino acid is obtained from the fungus), and the absence of a hexamerin (which sequesters amino acids during larval development in other insects). Following recent reports of genome sequences from other insects that engage in symbioses with beneficial microbes, the A. cephalotes genome provides new insights into the symbiotic lifestyle of this ant and advances our understanding of host-microbe symbioses.</p>},
  author       = {Suen, Garret and Teiling, Clotilde and Li, Lewyn and Holt, Carson and Abouheif, Ehab and Bornberg-Bauer, Erich and Bouffard, Pascal and Caldera, Eric J and Cash, Elizabeth and Cavanaugh, Amy and Denas, Olgert and Elhaik, Eran and Favé, Marie-Julie and Gadau, Jürgen and Gibson, Joshua D and Graur, Dan and Grubbs, Kirk J and Hagen, Darren E and Harkins, Timothy T and Helmkampf, Martin and Hu, Hao and Johnson, Brian R and Kim, Jay and Marsh, Sarah E and Moeller, Joseph A and Muñoz-Torres, Mónica C and Murphy, Marguerite C and Naughton, Meredith C and Nigam, Surabhi and Overson, Rick and Rajakumar, Rajendhran and Reese, Justin T and Scott, Jarrod J and Smith, Chris R and Tao, Shu and Tsutsui, Neil D and Viljakainen, Lumi and Wissler, Lothar and Yandell, Mark D and Zimmer, Fabian and Taylor, James and Slater, Steven C and Clifton, Sandra W and Warren, Wesley C and Elsik, Christine G and Smith, Christopher D and Weinstock, George M and Gerardo, Nicole M and Currie, Cameron R},
  issn         = {1553-7404},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {02},
  number       = {2},
  publisher    = {Public Library of Science},
  series       = {PLoS Genetics},
  title        = {The genome sequence of the leaf-cutter ant Atta cephalotes reveals insights into its obligate symbiotic lifestyle},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1002007},
  doi          = {10.1371/journal.pgen.1002007},
  volume       = {7},
  year         = {2011},
}