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Proc Biol Sci. 2002 Oct 7;269(1504):2023-7.

Tetraponera ants have gut symbionts related to nitrogen-fixing root-nodule bacteria.

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  • 1Zoological Institute, University of Leuven, Naamsestraat 59, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.


Some Tetraponera ants (Formicidae, Pseudomyrmecinae) subsist almost entirely on amino acid deficient honeydew secretions of pseudococcids and harbour a dense aggregation of bacterial symbionts in a unique pouch-shaped organ at the junction of the midgut and the intestine. The organ is surrounded by a network of intruding tracheae and Malpighian tubules, suggesting that these bacteria are involved in the oxidative recycling of nitrogen-rich metabolic waste. We have examined the ultrastructure of these bacteria and have amplified, cloned and sequenced ribosomal RNA-encoding genes, showing that the ant pouch contains a series of close relatives of Flavobacteria and Rhizobium, Methylobacterium, Burkholderia and Pseudomonas nitrogen-fixing root-nodule bacteria. We argue that pouch bacteria have been repeatedly 'domesticated' by the ants as nitrogen-recycling endosymbionts. This ant-associated community of mutualists is, to our knowledge, the first finding of symbionts related to root-nodule bacteria in animals.

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