New antifungal compound from ant farms

ant
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Attine ants are farmers, and they grow fungus as food. Pseudonocardia and Streptomyces bacteria are their farmhands, producing metabolites that protect the crop from pathogens. Surprisingly, these metabolites lack common structural features across bacteria from different geographic locations, even though the ants share a common ancestor. Now, researchers report in ACS Central Science they have identified the first shared antifungal compound among many of these bacteria across Brazil. The compound could someday have medical applications.

Attine ants originated as one species at a single location in the Amazon 50 million years ago. They have evolved to 200 species that have spread their throughout South and Central America. In exchange for food, bacteria at these farms produce that hold pathogenic fungi such as Escovopsis in check. However, these molecules differ from region to region, suggesting a highly fragmented and geographically limited for the bacteria. Monica T. Pupo, Jon Clardy and colleagues wanted to find out if any antifungal bacterial metabolites with broader distribution had been overlooked in prior investigations.

In a study of bacteria from ant nests at multiple sites in Brazil, the team discovered that nearly two thirds of Pseudonocardia strains produced a potent antifungal agent, which they called attinimicin. This discovery marked the first report of a specialized metabolite with broad geographic distribution produced by ant-associated bacteria. While this metabolite was safe for the fungal crop, it inhibited growth of fungal parasites, though—unlike many antibiotics—only in the absence of iron. It was also effective in fighting a Candida albicans infection in mice, comparable to azole-containing antifungal treatments that are used clinically, making it a potential drug candidate. The researchers ascertained attinimicin's structure and studied its evolutionary relationship to two similar bacterial peptides produced by Streptomyces—oxachelin A and cahuitamycin A.

The results suggest the associated genes in the two types of bacteria came from a common ancestor.


Explore further

Compound that kills drug-resistant fungi is isolated from ant microbiota

More information: Taise T. H. Fukuda et al. Specialized Metabolites Reveal Evolutionary History and Geographic Dispersion of a Multilateral Symbiosis. ACS Central Science. January 20, 2021. DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.0c00978
Journal information: ACS Central Science

Citation: New antifungal compound from ant farms (2021, January 20) retrieved 26 February 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-antifungal-compound-ant-farms.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
54 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments