Scientists Have Sequenced Termite’s Gut Microbiome

Scientists Have Sequenced Termite’s Gut Microbiome
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Termites are often called “silent destroyers” because they can hide and multiply in your house or yard without any immediate signs of deterioration. All termites consume cellulose-based plant materials. Even more, the termites eat wood. Just recently, scientists were able to sequence the bacteria in termites guts.

Types of termites

In general terms, there are two types of termites:

  • Underground termites that live in under the earth and are probably the most common type of termites;
  • Dry wood termites that, as their name implies, infect dry wood;

Termites usually live in tropical and subtropical areas and are totally absent from polar regions because they can not survive at low outdoor temperatures.

A termite holds the record for the oldest example of mutualism between organisms. A 100-million-year-old termite was found trapped in amber, along with the protozoa that lived in its intestines.

Termites feed on plants and wood and they possess bacteria in their guts
Termites feed on cellulosic plant materials and are estimated to eat about 7 billion tons of plant material each year.

Young termites are not born with microorganisms in their intestines. Before starting to consume wood, they need to eat feces of other termites to equip their intestines with the necessary number of bacteria and protozoa to digest wood.

Surprisingly, termites cannot digest their own food. More than 100 species of bacteria and protozoa live inside their intestines and help them digest food.

Scientists have sequenced termite’s gut microbiome

 

“We found that termites predominantly acquire their gut bacteria both from their parents and from other termite colonies. This means that both vertical and horizontal transmission have been important during the 150 million years of termite evolution,” explained Thomas Bourguignon, a professor at OIST.

Scientists extracted the DNA of the bacteria in termites guts and sequenced a 16S rRNA genetic material which is commonly used by researchers to identify bacteria species.


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