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Evolution of fungal parasites in the attine ant-fungus symbiosis

Grant number: 18/07931-3
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): October 01, 2018
Effective date (End): September 30, 2019
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Microbiology
Principal Investigator:André Rodrigues
Grantee:Quimi Vidaurre Montoya
Supervisor abroad: Nicole Marie Gerardo
Home Institution: Instituto de Biociências (IB). Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP). Campus de Rio Claro. Rio Claro , SP, Brazil
Local de pesquisa : Emory University, United States  
Associated to the scholarship:16/04955-3 - Phylogeny, systematics and diversification of Escovopsis fungi from Attini ants, BP.DR

Abstract

Symbiotic interactions play an important role in the evolution of life and allow structuring of complex systems in nature. Multipartite symbiotic associations with microbes enabled the evolutionary success of fungus-farming 'attine' ants. These insects collect various substrates for feeding a mutualistic fungus, which is cultured as a food source for their colonies. The fungal genus Escovopsis affects this mutualism, eventually leading to colony death. These fungi are the only known parasites that exploit the ant-fungus mutualism. The diversity and phylogenetic position of Escovopsis strains are poorly explored. The ongoing FAPESP project # 2016/04955-3 allowed us to have a glimpse into the phylogenetic diversity of Escovopsis from samples collected in Brazil. Our results suggest that Escovopsis comprises multiple fungal genera. This fact would suppose that more than one fungus co-evolved with the cultivar in a multiparasitism relationship. To test this idea, here we aim to infer the evolutionary history of the parasitism in the attine ant-fungus system and build a comprehensive phylogenetic tree of Escovopsis in relation to other fungi. For such analysis, samples from other habitats from the Neotropics are necessary, since this will help us to have a broader view of the phylogeny of these fungi. Therefore, it is fundamental to visit the research group of Dr. Nicole M. Gerardo (at the Department of Biology, Emory University, USA) because: (i) it has a collection of Escovopsis isolates from various countries in Central and South America, (ii) expertise in bioinformatics to evaluate the divergence time of the new genera, and (iii) expertise on disease ecology of insect-fungal systems and host-parasite associations. The results of this project will broaden knowledge of parasitism in the attine's environment and shed light on how these relationships influenced the history of these insects.