Google Play icon

Study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries

Share
Posted May 26, 2016

Zombie ants are only one of the fungi-insect relationships studied by a team of Penn State biologists in a newly compiled database of insect fungi interactions.

“I couldn’t find a place with broad information about all groups of fungi that infect insects in the same study,” said Joao Araujo, graduate student in biology. “When we organized the information, we started to understand things we wouldn’t see before, because the literature was so spread.”

From the 150 years of literature, the researchers found that about 65 percent of insect orders can be infected by fungi and Oomycetes, fungi-like organisms that also infect insects. The results were published in the Advances in Genetics.

Above is a healthy Colorado Potato Beetle. Below is a fungus-infected Colorado Potato Beetle. Image credit: USDA

Above is a healthy Colorado Potato Beetle. Below is a fungus-infected Colorado Potato Beetle. Image credit: USDA

Sap-sucking insects, such as cicadas, are the most frequently attacked by fungi. The researchers believe this is because of the way this order of insect evolved. They have specialized mouth parts for sucking sap making them susceptible to fungi that originally infect plants.

“The fungi may have found a good environment inside the insect and then they would have established in the new host by host-jumping from plants to insects,” said Araujo.

Host-jumping occurs when the fungi, in this case, are able to infect new groups of hosts like insects, animals or plants and so jump from one species or groups of hosts to others.

The researchers also discovered that flies are the only order of insects that are infected at all stages of development — from when they are eggs until they are adults. They believe flies are especially susceptible to infection because they are found all over the world and get their food in a wide variety of ways. Their larvae often occupy a wide range of breeding sites, ranging from ponds to tree trunks. This diversity within the order is a potential explanation for the susceptibility to fungal infections in all stages of flies.

The researchers found the order of insect that includes butterflies and the order that includes beetles to be the most likely to be infected when they are larvae.

They believe this is caused by a variety of factors. First, these insects occupy a wide variety of environments as larvae so they are exposed to a wider variety of fungi. Second, they tend to stay close to the breeding site where they were laid as eggs, making it easy for fungi to locate them. Third, in order to grow, they eat a lot of food. This means they become a large reservoir of energy for fungi. Finally, the larvae need to grow rapidly and so do not yet have a hard exoskeleton. Their softer, thinner skin makes them more susceptible to infection.

With this new database on the relationships between fungi and insects, the researchers believe much more research and and additional conclusions will be possible, and it may be a useful tool for teaching the diversity of fungi that infect insects.

Source: Penn State University

Featured news from related categories:

Technology Org App
Google Play icon
84,947 science & technology articles

Most Popular Articles

  1. New Class of Painkillers Offers all the Benefits of Opioids, Minus the Side Effects and Addictiveness (October 16, 2019)
  2. Plastic waste may be headed for the microwave (5 days old)
  3. "Helical Engine" Proposed by NASA Engineer could Reach 99% the Speed of Light. But could it, really? (6 days old)
  4. How social media altered the good parenting ideal (September 4, 2019)
  5. What's the difference between offensive and defensive hand grenades? (September 26, 2019)

Follow us

Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   Tumblr   RSS   Newsletter via Email