Insects cultivate ‘antibiotic-producing bacteria’ in their antennae
Society for Experimental Biology
April 1, 2007
Bacteria live in, on and around us and other organisms with sometimes very beneficial results. For the first time scientists have shown that one species of insect deliberately cultivates bacteria in its antennae in order to protect their larvae from fungal attack. This highly specialised interaction between an insect species and bacteria protects the insect’s offspring against microorganisms which might infect it during its cocoon stage.
Females of the European Beewolf cultivate the bacteria (a species of the antibiotic-producing genus Streptomyces) in the glands of their antennae and apply them to the brood cell before they lay their eggs. “The larvae take up the bacteria and apply them to the silk threads of their cocoons”, says Dr Kaltenpoth (University of Regensburg) who will be presenting his work at the Society for Experimental Biology’s Annual Main Meeting in Glasgow on Sunday 1st April.
Experiments have indicated that the streptomycetes bacteria protect the cocoon from fungal infection and significantly enhance the larva’s chances of survival during hibernation in the soil, possibly by producing antibiotics. All beewoolf species investigated so far show up positive for the bacteria which indicates it is essential for their survival and could play an important role in other insect species too.
Society for Experimental Biology news release.