Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Marburg, Germany, have compared the microbial ecosystems in the intestines termites and cockroaches, with fascinating results. The research is published in the April Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
It may be hard for people outside of certain scientific domains to muster anything but disgust for termites and cockroaches. Cockroaches, after all, infest our homes, and termites eat them. But despite their different life strategies—termites feed exclusively on wood, while cockroaches are the epitome of omnivory—these two culturally stigmatized insects are closest relatives. The microbial denizens of the termite gut have been the objects of intense study by microbiologists, with the goal of greatly boosting the conversion efficiency of cellulosic materials to biofuels, but cockroaches’ intestinal inhabitants have gone ignored, despite suspicions that pathogens are among them.
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