Vipa Phuntumart (center) in the lab with graduate student researchers (left and right) Gayathri Beligala and Satyaki Ghosh
BGSU team provides new insight into beetle-fungus symbiosis
A Bowling Green State University microbiology team played an important role in a scientific discovery about alcohol benefitting fungus farming in beetles.
Dr. Vipaporn Phuntumart, an associate professor of biological sciences, and doctoral students Gayathri Beligala and Satyaki Ghosh contributed to the paper “Symbiont Selection via Alcohol Benefits Fungus Farming by Ambrosia Beetles,” which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The beetle research, headed by an entomologist Dr. Christopher Ranger of USDA-ARS, discovered that alcohol, specifically ethanol, is important for the beetles’ food production, and part of the logic for their attraction to alcohol. Drawn to the smell of alcohol, the beetles can be found not only floating in beer glasses in a beer garden, but also in weakened trees such as dogwoods and redbuds that produce alcohol.
Additionally, these beetles are “true fungus farmers that propagate, cultivate and sustainably harvest their fungal gardens,” the paper states. In this symbiosis, the beetles farm the fungus as a food source for the larvae, while the fungus uses the beetle as a mean of dispersal and survival. The beetles are host to the fungi and the fungi provide a food supply for the larvae and the adult beetles.
Phuntumart, Beligala and Ghosh helped determine that the presence of alcohol in the weakened trees promotes the growth of fungus.