WN@tL: “The Secret Lives of Leaf-cutter Ants”

Speaker: Cameron Curie

Description: Since the origin of life on Earth ~3.5 billion years ago, microscopic organisms have played key roles in global biogeochemical processes and have evolved into the most abundant and diverse life forms on the planet. The importance of microbes is further exemplified by their crucial role as symbionts with plants and animals, as every living organism unavoidably lives in intimate association with microbes.

In the Currie Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison our research explores the diversity, ecology, and evolution of symbiotic associations and microbial symbionts. Our favorite symbiosis is associated with the well-known and charismatic leaf-cutter ants. Leaf-cutters can form massive colonies, composed of millions of workers, using fresh leaves as substrate to farm fungus for food. This amazing ant-fungus association is a textbook example of interspecies cooperation and was first described in the 19th Century.

Starting with my own doctoral work, we have spent the last two decades exploring the complex associations that occur within this symbiosis, including discovering and describing the presence of two other integral symbionts: i) parasitic fungi that exploit the ants’ fungus garden, and ii) mutualistic bacteria that produce antibiotics that inhibit the parasitic fungus. In my talk, I will present on our latest research exploring the coevolution, microbial and chemical ecology, and just simply surprising biology of this complex symbiosis.

Speaker Bio: Currie is the Ira L. Baldwin Professor of Bacteriology at UW-Madison.  He earned a BS in Biological Sciences from the University of Alberta, an MS in Entomology from UA, and his PhD in Botany from the University of Toronto.

UW Biotechnology Center
425 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706