Hydrolytic enzymes of leaf-cutting ant fungi

M Erthal, C P Silva, Richard Cooper, R I Samuels

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20 Citations (SciVal)


The production of enzymes and the colonization of leaves by Leucoagaricus gongylophorus were investigated to further understand the digestive interactions of leaf-cutting ant colonies. The enzymes detected were indicative of a saprophytic origin of this fungus, producing all the enzymes necessary for plant tissue breakdown. Enhanced activities of certain enzymes in the fungus garden extracts may be due to the particular behaviour of the adult worker ants that concentrate fungal acquired enzymes in the rectal fluid and subsequently defaecate these enzymes onto the leaves. The production of chitinases by the fungus may be an ancestral vestige of lower attines, and may have a role as agonists of invading microbes. Growth of the fungus on plant cell wall medium resulted in highest enzyme activity against pectin, reflecting the fact that polygalacturonans comprise the main matrix of the primary plant cell wall. SEM shows that L. gongylophorus does not form specialized structures for cell wall penetration, but gains access to the inner plant tissue at the cut edges of the leaf fragments. Enzymes secreted by the fungus were compared to those seen in larval and adult leaf-cutting ants, demonstrating the inter-dependence of the symbiotic relationship between the ants and their fungi.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-59
Number of pages6
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology B-Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Colonization
  • Cell wall degrading enzymes
  • Symbiosis
  • Insect
  • Plant degradation


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