35 minutes | Mar 11, 2021

Beneficial Symbiosis as a Firewall for Disease? Understanding the Coevolution Between Fungi and Termites with Michael Poulsen

Imagine a disease-free world. If it were easy enough to establish and maintain, most people on earth would choose it. Some species of ants and termites seem to have figured out a way to do just this.

Tune in to discover:

  • How certain ant and termite species might produce and use antimicrobial substances in their fungal gardens in the same way that humans use pesticides for disease-free crops
  • How termites and ants prevent the invasion and spread of disease within colonies
  • How termite nests differ or remain the same depending on environmental conditions

Michael Poulsen is a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Copenhagen whose work is about understanding beneficial symbioses between various species. In particular, he focuses on fungus-farming ants in Central and South America, and fungus-farming termites in Africa and Asia. His goal is to understand how these fungi and ants or termites co-evolve and optimize the services they provide for one another, as well as how these complex communities are formed, how they remain stable, and how they defend against disease.

The termites that Poulsen is studying are especially effective at warding off disease. Complex bacterial communities have been found in the fungal gardens farmed by these termites, and in the gut of the termites themselves. Could these bacterial communities provide insight into the formation of a disease-free world? Poulsen wants to find out.

He discusses what he’s learned, what he’s currently studying, and where this research could eventually go.

Learn more at https://www.socialsymbioticevolution.com/. Episode also available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/30PvU9C

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