A Single Streptomyces Symbiont Makes Multiple Antifungals to Support the Fungus Farming Ant Acromyrmex octospinosus

Ryan F. Seipke ; Joerg Barke ; Charles Brearley ; Lionel Hill ; Douglas W. Yu ; Rebecca J. M. Goss ; Matthew I. Hutchings

PLos ONE 2011, 6 (8) e22028

Attine ants are dependent on a cultivated fungus for food and use antibiotics produced by symbiotic Actinobacteria as weedkillers in their fungus gardens. Actinobacterial species belonging to the genera Pseudonocardia, Streptomyces and Amycolatopsis have been isolated from attine ant nests and shown to confer protection against a range of microfungal weeds. In previous work on the higher attine Acromyrmex octospinosus we isolated a Streptomycesstrain that produces candicidin, consistent with another report that attine ants useStreptomyces-produced candicidin in their fungiculture. Here we report the genome analysis of this Streptomyces strain and identify multiple antibiotic biosynthetic pathways. We demonstrate, using gene disruptions and mass spectrometry, that this single strain has the capacity to make candicidin and multiple antimycin compounds. Although antimycins have been known for >60 years we report the sequence of the biosynthetic gene cluster for the first time. Crucially, disrupting the candicidin and antimycin gene clusters in the same strain had no effect on bioactivity against a co-evolved nest pathogen called Escovopsis that has been identified in ~30% of attine ant nests. Since the Streptomyces strain has strong bioactivity against Escovopsis we conclude that it must make additional antifungal(s) to inhibitEscovopsis. However, candicidin and antimycins likely offer protection against other microfungal weeds that infect the attine fungal gardens. Thus, we propose that the selection of this biosynthetically prolific strain from the natural environment provides A. octospinosus with broad spectrum activity against Escovopsis and other microfungal weeds.