Metagenomics of bacteria and bacteriophages of ants and their nests

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Genetics


Humans are faced with continual attack from disease-causing microorganisms, and treatment is threatened by antibiotic resistance. A possible answer is bacteriophage - viruses that infect bacteria. They are beginning to be viewed as important drivers of bacterial population dynamics and evolution and also as novel therapeutic agents. Bacteriophage are the most abundant organisms on Earth, and yet bacteriophage associating with animals with high disease threats have not been well characterised.
Ants live in integrated social groups where individuals live in close proximity, often at very high densities. Such social living makes disease transmission likely, especially as colony members forage in the wider environment, returning with resources and disease. Trophollaxis - mouth to mouth feeding - increases disease transmission, while homeostatically regulated nests encourage microorganisms to flourish. Importantly, sociality in ants is longstanding, having evolved >150 million years ago. This high threat environment has therefore shaped ant evolution for many tens of millions of years. Given ants are ecologically dominant in many environments, they have evolved effective mechanisms to cope with this disease onslaught.
We will use next generation sequencing to characterise microbial communities, with a focus on bacteriophage, associated with ants and their nests. Through shotgun sequencing of environmental DNA, we will construct metagenomes which will enable investigation of the composition, diversity and functional roles of microbial communities in ants with different lifestyles and levels of disease threat.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M01116X/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1898557 Studentship BB/M01116X/1 02/10/2017 31/12/2021 Charlotte Durant