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Published: January 5, 2015

Let's discover the "invisible world" - Using next-generation sequencing to uncover the microbial community inside spiny ants

Stephanie Ware, Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

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Project Mentors: Dr. Corrie S. Moreau (Associate Curator, Integrative Research Center) and Manuela Ramalho (Visiting Graduate Student, Integrative Research Center)

Project Description: Symbiotic interactions are responsible for the evolution and diversity of life on the planet. To better understand the evolutionary significance of these associations in nature, further studies addressing the diversity of hosts and symbionts are necessary. Insects as hosts are considered an ideal group of organisms for the study of endosymbionts, since they are tolerant with the coexistence of microorganisms internally and externally on the body. There are about 15,000 species of ants widely spread distributed over the globe. The great diversity of the group is due to the great ecological success, resulting in various forms of nesting, feeding preferences and social behaviors with division of labor between castes. The spiny ants (genus Polyrhachis) have a wide distribution, diverse habits, and are often associated with endosymbionts, the “invisible world”. However there are few studies in this area, so there are many remaining questions about these associations. Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Illumina MiSeq2000 can facilitate the discovery of the microbiota associated with the host, showing to be an excellent tool for the characterization of communities previously little studied, such as the microbial diversity associated with insects and how the evolution and ecology of the host may structure host-associated bacterial diversity. The 2015 REU project will investigate the microbiota associated with spiny ants from across their distribution and in the context of their evolutionary history (phylogeny). This study may reveal important aspects of the biology of the Polyrhachis ants, the influence on endosymbionts in this diverse group, in addition to types of symbiotic interactions involved.

Research methods and techniques: REU participants in this project will be trained in molecular methods and knowledge of insect biology. Molecular methods will include DNA extraction, PCR and NGS Illumina MiSeq2000 sequencing. Moreover, interns will learn sequence data analyses and some knowledge of bioinformatics.


Stephanie Ware
Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

Stephanie Ware is currently a research assistant in the Division of Insects currently working with Dr. Petra Sierwald. She also works with Mary Hennen in the Division of Birds monitoring the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) populations in Illinois.