Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How social contact with sick ants protects their nestmates

Date:
April 4, 2012
Source:
Institute of Science and Technlogy Austria
Summary:
Micro-infections have been found to promote social vaccination in ant societies. Like crowded megacities, ant colonies face a high risk of disease outbreaks. These are kept in check by the ants’ "social immune system"— a set of collective hygienic behaviors and adaptive changes in interaction frequencies that acts in conjunction with the physiological, innate immune system of colony members.

Healthy workers of the invasive garden ant (Lasius neglectus) remove an infectious fungal pathogen (Metarhizium anisopliae) from an exposed nestmate by allogrooming. The pathogen-exposed individual was color-marked in order to distinguish it from the healthy ants.
Credit: Image courtesy of Institute of Science and Technlogy Austria

The research team of Prof. Sylvia Cremer at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have shown how micro-infections promote social vaccination in ant societies. Like crowded megacities, ant colonies face a high risk of disease outbreaks. These are kept in check by the ants' "social immune system" -- a set of collective hygienic behaviors and adaptive changes in interaction frequencies that acts in conjunction with the physiological, innate immune system of colony members. Prof. Cremer and colleagues now unravel how taking care of sick ants promotes disease protection in their group members.

Ants do not avoid sick colony members, but lick them to remove the pathogen from the exposed ant's body. This social grooming behavior drastically increases the survival chances of exposed individuals, but bares the risk that helper ants contract the disease. By applying fluorescence-labelled fungal spores to some ants and allowing them to interact with healthy colony members, the researchers showed that the labelled spores spread throughout the colony. Interestingly, however, spore transfer occurs at very low levels, causing only sub-lethal micro-infections in the previously healthy colony members. The authors determined that these low-level infections induce the expression of a specific set of immune genes and increase the ants' capacity to fight the fungal pathogen. Additional mathematical modelling suggests that such social immunisation enables colonies to recover more rapidly from an infection.

Social low-level spread of infectious particles therefore constitutes the underlying mechanism of social immunisation against fungal infections in ant societies. This is nature's counterpart to the first human efforts in inducing immunity against deadly diseases like smallpox. At a time when vaccination with dead or attenuated strains was not yet invented, immunity was induced in people by actively transferring low-level infections through so-called variolation. The extent of any human implications is not yet clear, but this study allows for informed inferrences to be made for a wider context.

As Simon Babyan from Edinburgh University and David Schneider from Stanford note in an accompanying primer article also published in PLoS Biology, "The authors used a combination of approaches to identify the mechanisms underlying social immunisation in ant colonies: mathematical modelling, behavioural, microbiological, immunological and molecular techniques, which, taken together, offer an exciting proof-of-concept that group-level immunity may be experimentally manipulated and modelled … By studying social immunity at a system level in insects perhaps we can find emergent properties that we have been missing in another important social animal -- the human."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Science and Technlogy Austria. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthias Konrad, Meghan L. Vyleta, Fabian J. Theis, Miriam Stock, Simon Tragust, Martina Klatt, Verena Drescher, Carsten Marr, Line V. Ugelvig, Sylvia Cremer. Social Transfer of Pathogenic Fungus Promotes Active Immunisation in Ant Colonies. PLoS Biology, 2012; 10 (4): e1001300 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001300

Cite This Page:

Institute of Science and Technlogy Austria. "How social contact with sick ants protects their nestmates." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404102303.htm>.
Institute of Science and Technlogy Austria. (2012, April 4). How social contact with sick ants protects their nestmates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404102303.htm
Institute of Science and Technlogy Austria. "How social contact with sick ants protects their nestmates." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404102303.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

AP (July 30, 2014) River otters were hitting the water slides to beat the summer heatwave on Wednesday at Ichikawa City's Zoological and Botanical Garden. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins