Over 10 million years ago, the leaf-cutting ants provide fresh plant material for fungi that they cultivate for food. Various microorganisms can parasitize their nests, and ants developed a series of defenses against these invaders. However, these defense mechanisms are not effective against specialized garden-parasite fungi of the genus Escovopsis. These insects have associated with others microorganisms such as some bacteria and yeasts, to protect themselves against invaders. Ants developed elaborate cuticular structures to house their antibiotic-producing symbiont microorganisms. Natural products produced by these microorganisms are still underexplored and may provide promising antimicrobial activity for the design of new drugs. Besides the ecological importance, these ants also cause great damage to agriculture, because they can collect the vegetables being grown. The leaf cutter ants of the Atta species are known as an important agricultural pest in the state of São Paulo and Brazil. There are no previous reported studies on the chemical interactions that occur between symbionts and pathogens microorganisms of these leaf-cutting ant nests. The knowledge of these interactions may allow the planning of combat strategies that are effective and selective for these ants. In this context, this doctorate project aims to study the natural products involved in chemical and biological interactions that occur among the microorganisms associated with nests of leaf-cutting ant Atta sexdens rubropilosa and to verify whether that natural products observed in the laboratory may occur in the natural environment.
News published in Agência FAPESP Newsletter about the scholarship: