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Curr Biol. 2005 Mar 8;15(5):475-9.

Symbiotic bacteria protect wasp larvae from fungal infestation.

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Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology and University of Würzburg, Am Hubland 97074 Würzburg, Germany.

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  • Curr Biol. 2005 May 10;15(9):882.


Symbiotic associations between different organisms are of great importance for evolutionary and ecological processes [1-4]. Bacteria are particularly valuable symbiotic partners owing to their huge diversity of biochemical pathways that may open entirely new ecological niches for higher organisms [1-3]. Here, we report on a unique association between a new Streptomyces species and a solitary hunting wasp, the European beewolf (Philanthus triangulum, Hymenoptera, Crabronidae). Beewolf females cultivate the Streptomyces bacteria in specialized antennal glands and apply them to the brood cell prior to oviposition. The bacteria are taken up by the larva and occur on the walls of the cocoon. Bioassays indicate that the streptomycetes protect the cocoon from fungal infestation and significantly enhance the survival probability of the larva, possibly by producing antibiotics. Behavioral observations strongly suggest a vertical transmission of the bacteria. Two congeneric beewolf species harbor closely related streptomycetes in their antennae, indicating that the association with protective bacteria is widespread among philanthine wasps and might play an important role in other insects as well. This is the first report on the cultivation of bacteria in insect antennae and the first case of a symbiosis involving bacteria of the important antibiotic-producing genus Streptomyces.

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