Formicine ants swallow their highly acidic poison for gut microbial selection and control

Animals continuously encounter microorganisms that are essential for health or cause disease. They are thus challenged to control harmful microbes while allowing the acquisition of beneficial microbes. This challenge is likely especially important for social insects with respect to microbes in food, as they often store food and exchange food among colony members. Here we show that formicine ants actively swallow their antimicrobial, highly acidic poison gland secretion. The ensuing acidic environment in the stomach, the crop, can limit the establishment of pathogenic and opportunistic microbes ingested with food and improve the survival of ants when faced with pathogen contaminated food. At the same time, crop acidity selectively allows acquisition and colonization by Acetobacteraceae, known bacterial gut associates of formicine ants. This suggests that swallowing of the poison in formicine ants acts as a microbial filter and that antimicrobials have a potentially widespread but so far underappreciated dual role in host-microbe interactions.Read more…

Animals continuously encounter microorganisms that are essential for health or cause disease. They are thus challenged to control harmful microbes while allowing the acquisition of beneficial microbes. This challenge is likely especially important for social insects with respect to microbes in food, as they often store food and exchange food among colony members. Here we show that formicine ants actively swallow their antimicrobial, highly acidic poison gland secretion. The ensuing acidic environment in the stomach, the crop, can limit the establishment of pathogenic and opportunistic microbes ingested with food and improve the survival of ants when faced with pathogen contaminated food. At the same time, crop acidity selectively allows acquisition and colonization by Acetobacteraceae, known bacterial gut associates of formicine ants. This suggests that swallowing of the poison in formicine ants acts as a microbial filter and that antimicrobials have a potentially widespread but so far underappreciated dual role in host-microbe interactions.Read more…


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