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Collaborative research: Dimensions US-São Paulo: integrating phylogeny, genetics, and chemical ecology to unravel the tangled bank of the multipartite fungus-farming ant symbiosis

Grant number: 19/03746-0
Support type:BIOTA-FAPESP Program - Thematic Grants
Duration: September 01, 2019 - August 31, 2024
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Microbiology
Cooperation agreement: NSF - Dimensions of Biodiversity and BIOTA
Principal Investigator:André Rodrigues
Grantee:André Rodrigues
Principal investigator abroad: Bryn Dentinger
Institution abroad: University of Utah (U), United States
Home Institution: Centro de Estudos de Insetos Sociais (CEIS). Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP). Campus de Rio Claro. Rio Claro , SP, Brazil
Co-Principal Investigators:Mauricio Bacci Junior
Assoc. researchers:Fábio Santos do Nascimento ; Milene Ferro ; Simon Luke Elliot
Associated scholarship(s):19/23391-1 - Mycoparasitism in the attine ant fungiculture: host competition in multiple infections, BP.IC


Overview: Species interactions can drive diversification. This is particularly true in cases of coevolved symbioses,where coevolutionary processes can lead to the generation and maintenance of novel functional andgenetic diversity as organisms respond to each over microevolutionary timescales. Furthermore, suchevolutionary coupling can lead to taxonomic diversification, as one or more partners track one anotherover macroevolutionary time scales. While this is widely recognized, much of the underlying diversity insuch systems may be obscured without extensive sampling and taxonomic investigation. This researchtakes a comprehensive approach to uncover suspected hidden diversity within an iconic example ofsymbiotic coevolution, the fungus-growing ant symbiosis. Through broad geographic sampling, targetingtaxa in which we expect to encounter cryptic species, the research team will uncover phylogenetic andtaxonomic diversity of the over two hundred species of ants, their cultivated fungi, parasites that attackthese fungi, and bacteria that function in garden defense and metabolic processes. Couplingmetatranscriptomic and metabolomic approaches, they will characterize genetic diversity, assessingwhether and how the functions of the ants' garden microbiomes complement those of the core symbiontswithin the system. Finally, recognizing that chemical interactions are key drivers of most species'interactions, they will use cutting-edge techniques in natural products research to discover the functionalchemistry underlying symbiont communication, pathogen suppression, and mutualistic facilitation. Thisproject benefits from the wide-ranging expertise of the US-Brazil investigative team, whose researchspans insect and fungal taxonomy, phylogenetics, genomics, and natural products chemistry.Intellectual Merit:While profound insights into organismal evolution and diversification have been gained through the studyof two-way interactions between predators and prey, between hosts and parasites, and betweenmutualistic partners, there is increasing recognition that such coevolutionary processes are embeddedwithin complex ecological communities that involve other species, many of which are microbes. Thiscomplexity may lead to diffuse coevolution, where interacting species do not evolve in response only toone another but to multiple potential partners and antagonists. Assessing whether coevolution andspecialization can be strictly maintained in such a context requires extensive sampling and understandingof the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity within a system. Building on previous research inthe fungus-growing ant symbiosis, this research will leverage the diversity of this tractable symbiosis toaddress this central question.Broader Impacts:As a textbook example of symbiosis and coevolution, the fungus-growing ant system has an extensivehistory of research and captivates the public. The team will take a unique approach to collaborate with ahistorian to document their international research and how it builds on previous research. Videointerviews stemming from this collaboration will serve as the backbone of a multimedia videoinstallation, which will be displayed at two museums and a public science festival. In Brazil, theresearchers will lead a workshop for graduate and undergraduate students on microbial isolation. Theproject will train postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates, who will be recruited through atargeted approach to reach candidates from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM. (AU)