Protection against the lethal side effects of social immunity in ants Journal Article


Author(s): Pull, Christopher D; Metzler, Sina; Naderlinger, Elisabeth; Cremer, Sylvia
Article Title: Protection against the lethal side effects of social immunity in ants
Affiliation IST Austria
Abstract: Many animals use antimicrobials to prevent or cure disease [1,2]. For example, some animals will ingest plants with medicinal properties, both prophylactically to prevent infection and therapeutically to self-medicate when sick. Antimicrobial substances are also used as topical disinfectants, to prevent infection, protect offspring and to sanitise their surroundings [1,2]. Social insects (ants, bees, wasps and termites) build nests in environments with a high abundance and diversity of pathogenic microorganisms — such as soil and rotting wood — and colonies are often densely crowded, creating conditions that favour disease outbreaks. Consequently, social insects have evolved collective disease defences to protect their colonies from epidemics. These traits can be seen as functionally analogous to the immune system of individual organisms [3,4]. This ‘social immunity’ utilises antimicrobials to prevent and eradicate infections, and to keep the brood and nest clean. However, these antimicrobial compounds can be harmful to the insects themselves, and it is unknown how colonies prevent collateral damage when using them. Here, we demonstrate that antimicrobial acids, produced by workers to disinfect the colony, are harmful to the delicate pupal brood stage, but that the pupae are protected from the acids by the presence of a silk cocoon. Garden ants spray their nests with an antimicrobial poison to sanitize contaminated nestmates and brood. Here, Pull et al show that they also prophylactically sanitise their colonies, and that the silk cocoon serves as a barrier to protect developing pupae, thus preventing collateral damage during nest sanitation.
Journal Title: Current Biology
Volume: 28
Issue 19
ISSN: 0960-9822
Publisher: Cell Press  
Date Published: 2018-10-08
Start Page: R1139
End Page: R1140
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.08.063
Notes: This study was funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant to S.C. (240371) under the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme.
Open access: no