Fungus garden material from recently established Atta sexdens rubropilosa colonies (6-12 months old) was sampled to detect antibiotic producing microorganisms that inhibited the growth of pathogens of insects and of the fungus gardens but did not affect their mutualistic fungus. A bacterium with activity against the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana was isolated from 56% of the gardens tested (n = 57) and identified from its biochemical profile and from 16S and 23S ribosomal DNA sequences as a member of the genus Burkholderia. The ant-associated Burkholderia isolates secreted a potent, anti-fungal agent that inhibited germination of conidia of the entomopathogenic fungi B. bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae, of the saprophytic Verticillium lecanii, and also of a specialist fungus garden Escovopsis weberi. Growth of the ant's mutualist fungus was unaffected. (C) 2004 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.