New ants look after plant diseases, says new study

Wood ants, moved from the forest to an apple plantation, have reduced the occurrence of diseases within the plantation. Credits: Jens Henrik Petersen
A new study shows that ants inhibit at least 14 different plant diseases. Indeed, it has been discovered that they secrete antibiotics from their body glands. On their feet and their bodies, ants also harbor colonies of bacteria secreting antibiotics. These substances are thought to be responsible for reducing a number of diseases in plants. Researchers now hope, based on this study, to find biological pesticides capable of overcoming plant-resistant diseases.

Ants live closely together in their anthills and are therefore highly susceptible to the spread of infections. To protect against such risks, they have their own defense systems. On the one hand, they are very hygienic, and on the other hand, they can treat each other with antibiotics produced by their care.

Through the body glands, ants secrete antibiotics, besides the bacterial colonies they grow on their legs and body can also secrete antibiotics.

Previous research had shown that wood ants, moved to an apple plantation, reduced the occurrence of two distinct apple diseases (scab and root rot) in the plantation.

This prompted the scientists involved in this new study to go through the existing literature and look for scientific evidence. Their results finally indicate that ants can inhibit at least 14 plant diseases through their antibiotic secretions. The report was published on the Wiley Online Library Publishing Server.

Ants secrete antibiotics from a number of body glands. In addition, bacteria grow on their feet and their bodies, the latter also secreting antibiotics. Credits: Tinna Christensen

" We do not yet know exactly how ants heal plants, " said Joachim Offenberg, senior scientist at the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, Denmark, who led the research.

"On the other hand, we know that ants secrete pheromones on their paths. And we know that some of them [pheromones] have antibiotic properties. The healing effect on plant diseases could be due to these , "says Offenberg.

Researchers believe that ants and their antibiotics may be used in the future to develop biological pesticides. " We hope that more field research will uncover new types of biological agents that can be used in the fight against resistant plant diseases in agriculture, " he adds.

And the idea is not a mere utopia: other researchers have identified ultra-efficient antibiotics secreted by African ants, capable of eradicating MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and others. multidrug-resistant bacteria.



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