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The superorganism immunology: detection, response, and memory in leaf-cutting ants

Grant number: 21/04112-4
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Master
Effective date (Start): May 01, 2021
Effective date (End): April 30, 2023
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Microbiology - Applied Microbiology
Cooperation agreement: NSF - Dimensions of Biodiversity and BIOTA
Principal researcher:André Rodrigues
Grantee:Aryel Camero Goes
Home Institution: Instituto de Biociências (IB). Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP). Campus de Rio Claro. Rio Claro , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:19/03746-0 - Collaborative research: Dimensions US-São Paulo: integrating phylogeny, genetics, and chemical ecology to unravel the tangled bank of the multipartite fungus-farming ant symbiosis, AP.BTA.TEM


The ability of leaf-cutting ants to detect, recognize and selectively remove invasive fungi and antagonists to the fungus they cultivate is conspicuous, as well as the role of social immunology to perform these tasks. Although behavioral aspects are known, the mechanisms behind the detection, response, and memory against invading fungi are still underexplored. Previous results indicated that Atta sexdens showed specificity, intense responses, and memory when exposed to different fungi, indicating a putative adaptive social immunology (FAPESP research project n. 2019/03087-6). This project aims to understand the mechanisms responsible for such adaptive responses. Relying on bioassays with leaf-cutting ant colonies, we intend to investigate whether the detection of distinct fungi occurs by differentiating odors in the workers' antennae, in addition to comparing them between the taxa in search of similarities. In addition, cognitive tests will be carried out, in solitary workers and in groups, to visualize the development of immune memory for specific fungi, and whether the increase in hygienic responses by the colony is due to some type of learning. This project will contribute to the understanding of the functioning of social immunology in leaf-cutting ants, and shed light on the recent hypothesis of "superorganism immunology" in social insects. (AU)

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