Ant Symbionts May Provide New Approaches to Biofuels Synthesis


Leaf-cutting ants are well-known agriculturalists, cultivating fungus gardens capable of efficiently breaking down lignocellulosic plant material and converting it to food for ant colonies. Cameron Currie, a University of Wisconsin microbiologist at the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), is studying the complex interactions between ants, their cultivated fungi, and the microbial communities that colonize their nests. A news commentary in the April 2nd issue of the journal Nature describes Currie’s research and his collaborative effort with the DOE Joint Genome Institute to sequence microbial community genome fragments from ant colonies. The aim of this approach is to prospect for new lignocellulose-degrading enzymes that could be further developed for biofuels production. The idea is that the ants’ long evolutionary history may help us in our attempts to break down plant biomass, says Currie.