Destructive disinfection of infected brood prevents systemic disease spread in ant colonies

Pull, Christopher D and Ugelvig, Line V and Wiesenhofer, Florian and Tragust, Simon and Schmitt, Thomas and Brown, Mark J and Cremer, Sylvia (2018) Destructive disinfection of infected brood prevents systemic disease spread in ant colonies. eLife, 7. Article number: e32073 . ISSN 2050-084X

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Social insects protect their colonies from infectious disease through collective defences that result in social immunity. In ants, workers first try to prevent infection of colony members. Here, we show that if this fails and a pathogen establishes an infection, ants employ an efficient multicomponent behaviour − "destructive disinfection" − to prevent further spread of disease through the colony. Ants specifically target infected pupae during the pathogen's non-contagious incubation period, relying on chemical 'sickness cues' emitted by pupae. They then remove the pupal cocoon, perforate its cuticle and administer antimicrobial poison, which enters the body and prevents pathogen replication from the inside out. Like the immune system of a body that specifically targets and eliminates infected cells, this social immunity measure sacrifices infected brood to stop the pathogen completing its lifecycle, thus protecting the rest of the colony. Hence, the same principles of disease defence apply at different levels of biological organisation.

Item Type: Article
DOI: 10.7554/eLife.32073.001
Subjects: 500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology > 576 Genetics and evolution
500 Science > 590 Animals (zoology) > 592 Invertebrates
Research Group: Cremer Group
SWORD Depositor: Sword Import User
Depositing User: Sword Import User
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2018 08:44
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2018 08:44

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