Isolating antifungals from fungus-growing ant symbionts using a genome-guided chemistry approach

Ryan Seipke, Sabine Gruschow, Rebecca Goss, Matthew Hutchings

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18 Citations (Scopus)


We describe methods used to isolate and identify antifungal compounds from actinomycete strains associated with the leaf-cutter ant Acromyrmex octospinosus. These ants use antibiotics produced by symbiotic actinomycete bacteria to protect themselves and their fungal cultivar against bacterial and fungal infections. The fungal cultivar serves as the sole food source for the ant colony, which can number up to tens of thousands of individuals. We describe how we isolate bacteria from leaf-cutter ants collected in Trinidad and analyze the antifungal compounds made by two of these strains (Pseudonocardia and Streptomyces spp.), using a combination of genome analysis, mutagenesis, and chemical isolation. These methods should be generalizable to a wide variety of insect-symbiont situations. Although more time consuming than traditional activity-guided fractionation methods, this approach provides a powerful technique for unlocking the complete biosynthetic potential of individual strains and for avoiding the problems of rediscovery of known compounds. We describe the discovery of a novel nystatin compound, named nystatin P1, and identification of the biosynthetic pathway for antimycins, compounds that were first described more than 60 years ago. We also report that disruption of two known antifungal pathways in a single Streptomyces strain has revealed a third, and likely novel, antifungal plus four more pathways with unknown products. This validates our approach, which clearly has the potential to identify numerous new compounds, even from well-characterized actinomycete strains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-70
Number of pages24
JournalMethods in Enzymology
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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