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Bacteria Aids Ants, Could Improve Biofuel Production

Leafcutter ants, the tiny red dots known for carrying green leaves as they march through tropical forests, are also talented farmers that cultivate gardens of fungi and bacteria. Ants eat fungi from the so-called fungal gardens, but the bacteria's role has been unclear until now.

New research shows the bacteria help decompose the leaves and play a major role in turning the leaves into nutrients that may be important for both ants and fungi. The findings were published by The ISME Journal, a publication of the International Society for Microbial Ecology.

"This research provides some of the first tangible details about the fascinating symbiotic relationship between leafcutter ants, fungi and bacteria," says Kristin Burnum, a bioanalytical chemist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Burnum is a co-author on the paper and led the study's protein analysis. "Understanding how bacteria turn plant matter into a source of energy in ant fungal gardens could also help improve biofuel production."
 
 

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