Navigation Links
Discovery in amber reveals ancient biology of termites
Date:5/14/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. The analysis of a termite entombed for 100 million years in an ancient piece of amber has revealed the oldest example of "mutualism" ever discovered between an animal and microorganism, and also shows the unusual biology that helped make this one of the most successful, although frequently despised insect groups in the world.

The findings were made by George Poinar, an Oregon State University researcher and international expert on life forms found in amber. It was just published in Parasites and Vectors, a professional journal.

This particular termite was probably flying around while mating in a wet, humid tropical forest in what is now Myanmar during the Early Cretaceous period the age of the dinosaurs. It may have been attacked by a bird or somehow torn open, and then it dropped into the sticky, oozing tree sap that would later become amber, providing an opportunity for the biology of this ancient insect to be revealed in a way that would otherwise have been impossible.

Out of its wounded abdomen spilled a range of protozoa, which even then were providing a key function for the termite they helped it to digest wood. Between animals and microorganisms, this is the earliest example ever discovered of "mutualism," which is one type of symbiotic relationship in which two species help each other.

"Termites live on cellulose, mostly from the dead wood they chew, but they depend on protozoa in their gut to provide the enzymes that can digest the wood," Poinar said. "These protozoa would die outside of the termite, and the termite would starve if it didn't have the protozoa to aid in digestion. In this case they depend on each other for survival."

Even more primitive termites may have fed on a range of things they could digest themselves, Poinar said, but eventually they acquired protozoa that dramatically increased their ability to digest cellulose, and through evolutionary processes they came to depend on it.

Today, modern termites are one of the world's most pervasive and successful insect groups, with about 2,300 known species, mostly in tropical settings, busily at work chewing wood or other plant fiber that protozoa help to digest. They have important ecological roles, helping to create habitat, build soil fertility, recycle nutrients and serve as food for many predators. As a social species similar to ants, some colonies can have 20 million individual insects. And they also cause massive amounts of damage every year to wood structures in much of the world.

Their dependence on these protozoa is now well understood, and the process isn't always pretty.

Somewhere on the evolutionary scale the termites began producing a liquid that contained protozoa that they would excrete. The termite offspring in turn consume the feces and thereby gain the protozoa in their digestive systems.

It took time for all of this to get worked out, the study indicated. The successful establishment of protozoa in the termites required them to withstand the chemical and physical conditions inside the alimentary tract, use the gut contents as a food source, cause no damage to the host and be carried through successive stages and generations.

But by the different species each specializing at what they do best the termite eats, the protozoa digests the two groups have both had extraordinary evolutionary success.

"The relationship between termites and protozoa is very close and has been stabilized now for a very long time because of its obvious value," Poinar said. "It's exciting to understand that this classic example of mutualism has been going on now for at least 100 million years."

As well as outlining this age-old example of mutualism, the new study revealed 10 new fossil flagellate species of protozoa, a new species of termite, a new genus of fossil amoeba and 14 additional trophic and encysted protist stages.

Poinar for many years has studied life forms and other material found trapped in amber. As a semi-precious stone that first begins to form as sap oozing from a tree, amber has the unique ability to trap very small animals or other materials and as a natural embalming agent display them in nearly perfect, three-dimensional form millions of years later. This phenomenon has been invaluable in scientific and ecological research, and allows researchers to characterize the biology of ecosystems that existed millions of years ago.

The amber that contained the termite used in this study came from a mine first excavated in 2001 in the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar, in a formation that was between 97 and 110 million years old.


'/>"/>

Contact: George Poinar
poinarg@science.oregonstate.edu
541-737-5366
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

Related medicine news :

1. Discovery of sugar sensor in intestine could benefit diabetes
2. Discovery suggests location of genes for breast density, a strong risk factor for breast cancer
3. Stem cell research produces a key discovery for Fragile X Syndrome
4. Welch Foundation gives $1.6 million for drug discovery research
5. New discovery leaves blood-doping athletes scratching their heads
6. Chemical Diversity Initiates International Prostrate Cancer Discovery Partnership
7. New discovery leaves blood-doping athletes scratching their heads
8. Discovery of widespread tumor growth gene holds promise for effective anti-cancer treatment
9. Discovery supports theory of Alzheimers disease as form of diabetes
10. Discovery Health CME Explores the Benefits and Risks of Aspirin in Aspirin Therapy: Maximizing the Benefits
11. New discovery may improve treatment of one of the worlds leading causes of blindness
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/26/2016)... Orion, Clarkston, Michigan (PRWEB) , ... June 26, ... ... with respect to fertility once they have been diagnosed with endometriosis. These women ... intercourse but they also require a comprehensive approach that can help for preservation ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... , ... The temporary closing of Bruton Memorial Library on June 21 due to a possible ... often overlooked aspect of head lice: the parasite’s ability to live away from a human ... but a necessary one in the event that lice have simply gotten out of control. ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... , ... As a lifelong Southern Californian, Dr. Omkar Marathe earned his Bachelors ... Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He trained in Internal Medicine at Scripps Green ... hematology/oncology at the UCLA-Olive View-Cedars Sinai program where he had the opportunity to train ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... ... Conventional wisdom preaches the benefits of moderation, whether it’s a matter of ... too high can result in disappointment, perhaps even self-loathing. However, those who set the ... Research from PsychTests.com reveals that behind the tendency to set low expectations ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... ... June 19, 2016 is World Sickle Cell Observance Day. In an effort to ... treatments, Serenity Recovery Center of Marne, Michigan, has issued a pain management ... (SCD) is a disorder of the red blood cells, which can cause episodes of ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... 24, 2016 The Academy of Managed Care ... that would allow biopharmaceutical companies to more easily ... make formulary and coverage decisions, a move that addresses ... medicines. The recommendations address restrictions in the ... the drug label, a prohibition that hinders decision makers ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... DUBLIN , June 24, 2016 ... "The World Market for Companion Diagnostic Tests" report to ... World Market for Companion Diagnostics The World ... diagnostic and personalized medicine diagnostics. Market analysis in the report ... Diagnostics Test Market (In Vitro Diagnostic Kits) by Region (N. ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , Belgium , June 24, ... VNRX), today announced the appointment of Dr. ... Directors as a Non-Executive Director, effective June 23, ... Audit, Compensation and Nominations and Governance Committees.  As ... Futcher will provide independent expertise and strategic counsel ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: