Isolation and characterisation of novel antimycotics

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Biological Sciences

Abstract

Amazonian leaf-cutter ants began farming fungus as a food source for their offspring and queen between 50-60 million years ago. They grow the fungus on the leaves they have collected and they also grow a bacterium wit the fungus which produces chemicals to inhibit the growth of any other fungi or bacteria. This clever symbiotic relationship has evolved over tens of millions of years and the bacteria are repaid by being fed by secretions from specialised glands on the ant bodies. The chemicals produced by the bacteria have not been identified and so during this project we will isolate and identify the compounds and investigate whether these compounds could be used as drugs for treatiing human and animal infections.

Technical Summary

Attine ants, better known as leaf-cutter ants, grow fungus on masticated leaves as a sole food source for their larvae and queen. The fungus (cultivar) is passed vertically from generation to generation along with a symbiotic bacteria belonging to the order Actinomycetes. This symbiont is co-inoculated onto the leaves along with the fungal cultivar and produces antifungal compounds (antimycotics) which prevent contamination of the fungal garden. The aims of this proposal are to isolate the Actinomycete symbionts from different genera of Attine ants, identify the antimycotics and clone the biosynthetic genes. We anticipate that this novel source of antimycotics may have uses in human and animal medicine and this project will lay the groundwork for the genetic and chemical engineering of these compounds for clinical use.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description NERC Impact Accelerator Award
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2013 
End 12/2013
 
Description NERC responsive mode
Amount £418,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/J01074X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2012 
End 08/2015
 
Description Translational funding
Amount £45,000 (GBP)
Organisation Norwich Research Park 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2014 
 
Title Genome sequences 
Description The first two Pseudonocardia (bacterial) genomes in the Genbank database - these are also the first two ant-associated actinomycete genomes to be made publicly available 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of Data/Biological Samples 
Year Produced 2010 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We identified a novel antifungal related to the clinically important nystatin 
 
Description A Capacity and Capability Challenge project with the Genome Analysis Centre. 
Organisation Earlham Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have helped them trouble shoot sequencing of high GC actinomycete genomes
Collaborator Contribution They have provided a large amount of 454, Illumina and SoLiD sequencing for our project - sequencing new actinomycete species we isolated from fungus farming ants and allowing us to genome scan and identify antibiotic biosynthetic gene clusters.
Impact Barke et al (2010). BMC Biology 8:109
Start Year 2009
 
Description A workshop on fungus farming ants at the biodiversity conference in Norwich Castle Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I gave a short talk and then we did some practical science experiments to isolate antibiotic producing bacteria from leaf-cutter ants. This sparked a lot of questions and discussion following the workshop.

I have been asked to do the same workshop in 2012
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Big Bang Science Fair 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Big Bang is the largest science fair in the UK - had about 75000 visitors over four days
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.facebook.com/AntibioticHunters
 
Description Biodiversity conference at Norwich Cathedral 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Three schools attended this exhibition at Norwich cathedral in which we manned poster displays and answered questions about our research

I was invited to subsequent outreach events
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012
 
Description Great British Bioscience Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Kids were very excited about science

See above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description I gave a talk to local 6th formers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 20 students attended and several asked interesting and insightful questions afterwards

I was asked to do more outreach events
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Interviewed on the BBC One Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Intterviewed for the One Show about leafcutter ants and antibiotics

More requests for media work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Interviews for the Radio 4 iPM and PM programmes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interviewed about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance

requests for more media interviews
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Live feed webcam on a captive fungus farming ant colony 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We set up a display colony of fungus farming ants and a live feed webcam so anyone can watch the ants in real-time at http://www.hutchingslab.net/antcam

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Live interview for Radio Norfolk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact None yet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Media activity - including interviews for the BBC One Show, Radio 4 PM and CNN. Several articles, eg for Microbiology Today and Chemistry and Industry magazine.

See above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants
 
Description Sustainable Living Festival at Norwich Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We manned a display and did some practical science with members of the public as part of this festival in Norwich

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description UEA 50th anniversary celebration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A workshop on leafcutter ants and antibiotics for the UEA 50 celebration.

1500 visitors including general public and UEA alumni from around the world
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description UEA London Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public Lecture in London on Antibiotics - also live streamed and recorded for the UEA website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants
 
Description UK Fun with Fungi day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 400 people attended the event

None yet but it was only 3 weeks ago
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013