Fungus-farming ants use 'antibiotic weed killers' to maintain their gardens

Washington, Aug 27 (ANI): Fungus farming ants also have means to protect their 'gardens' - they use multiple antibiotics as weed killers to maintain their grounds.

Dr Matt Hutchings at the University of East Anglia found that ants use the antibiotics to inhibit the growth of unwanted fungi and bacteria in their fungus cultures, which they use to feed their larvae and queen.

These antibiotics are produced by actinomycete bacteria that live on the ants in a mutual symbiosis.

The Acromyrmex octospinosus leaf cutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on earth with colonies of up to several million individuals.

"We found a new antifungal compound that is related to a clinically important antifungal named nystatin so we're excited about the potential of these ants and other insects to provide us with new antibiotics for medical use," said Hutchings.

"It's also very exciting that ants not only evolved agriculture before humans but also combination therapy with natural antibiotics. Humans are just starting to realise that this is one way to slow down the rise of drug resistant bacteria - the so called superbugs," he added.

The paper, entitled 'A mixed community of actinomycetes produce multiple antibiotics for the fungus farming ant Acromyrmex octospinosus' is published in BMC Biology. (ANI)

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