Living With Gut Symbionts

Eastern Subterranean Termite

Reticulitermes flavipes, Eastern Subterranean Termite

Termites have symbionts present in the gut that aid in the digestion of cellulose and produce essential nutrients. The gut symbionts are a mixture of microorganisms acquired from the environment and those that are passed from termite to termite. In a termite colony, only the workers consume wood. The workers feed the soldiers and reproductives. When the reproductives swarm and establish a new colony, the reproductives feed and nourish the first brood until new workers can assume the chores of the colony. The alates must carry obligate symbionts to transfer to their young in the establishment of the new colony.

Unlike the symbionts of cockroaches as aphids that reside in bacteriocytes, Termite symbionts are housed in the gut and passed from individual to individual by trophallaxis (feeding on feces). Now that we have molecular methods of identifying microbial species (Operational Taxonomic Units), it is possible to compare the species and numbers of microorganisms between colonies and castes*. Some microbes are always present and some appear to be obtained from the environment. Interestingly, the abundance of some microbes is lower in alates. Is this due to changes in diet? Physiological regulation? Other effects? Now that we have good molecular tools, we can begin to address some of these questions.

*Jacquelynn Benjamino and Joerg Graf. Characterization of the Core and Caste-Specific Microbiota in the Termite, Reticulitermes flavipes. Front Microbiol. 2016; 7: 171.
doi:  10.3389/fmicb.2016.00171

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Living With Gut Symbionts

  1. Pingback: Living With Gut Symbionts

  2. Ranking Bug says:

    Great little post! I’m really enjoying your blog on all things to do with insects.
    Really love termite though.

    Keep up the great posts.

  3. Addy Addy says:

    I like this post.
    Pest control Toronto

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