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Nat Commun. 2018 Mar 6;9(1):964. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03357-y.

Herbivorous turtle ants obtain essential nutrients from a conserved nitrogen-recycling gut microbiome.

Author information

1
Department of Biology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA. yh332@drexel.edu.
2
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA.
3
Department of Pediatrics, The University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA.
4
Department of Biology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
5
Department of Medicine, Institute of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
6
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
7
School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health systems, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
8
Department of Biology, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, 49546, USA.
9
Laboratory of Social Evolution and Behavior, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, 10065, USA.
10
Department of Science and Education, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL, 60605, USA.
11
Department of Fundamental Microbiology, University of Lausanne, 1015, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Abstract

Nitrogen acquisition is a major challenge for herbivorous animals, and the repeated origins of herbivory across the ants have raised expectations that nutritional symbionts have shaped their diversification. Direct evidence for N provisioning by internally housed symbionts is rare in animals; among the ants, it has been documented for just one lineage. In this study we dissect functional contributions by bacteria from a conserved, multi-partite gut symbiosis in herbivorous Cephalotes ants through in vivo experiments, metagenomics, and in vitro assays. Gut bacteria recycle urea, and likely uric acid, using recycled N to synthesize essential amino acids that are acquired by hosts in substantial quantities. Specialized core symbionts of 17 studied Cephalotes species encode the pathways directing these activities, and several recycle N in vitro. These findings point to a highly efficient N economy, and a nutritional mutualism preserved for millions of years through the derived behaviors and gut anatomy of Cephalotes ants.

PMID:
29511180
PMCID:
PMC5840417
DOI:
10.1038/s41467-018-03357-y
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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