"Zombie ants," Ophiocordyceps fungal infected Camponotus floridanus, are a valuable model to study how parasites can change host behavior to benefit their own transmission. Recent findings using molecular approaches reveal indirect strategies, such as effector secretion, employed by the fungus for successful manipulation. Yet the direct interactions between the host tissues and fungal cells remain largely unknown. As such, we used micro-computed tomography to visualize the internal morphology of ants throughout Ophiocordyceps infection. Moreover, recent work on microbiomes is providing increasing data on the importance of gut microbiota in organism functioning. Digestion and nutrient absorption, reproduction, and even host immune defense are all impacted by microbiota. Therefore, we characterized both the bacterial and fungal gut microbiomes of Ophiocordyceps-infected ants to investigate if the host microbiome changes during infection. For both aims, we contrasted the results for Ophiocordyceps infections against Beauveria infections to learn 1) if the results are specifically related to behavioral manipulation or more general hallmarks of fungal infections, and 2) if Ophiocordyceps and Beauveria can indeed be classified as a hemi-biotroph and necrotroph, respectively, because they interact with their host differently. Our findings provide initial evidence of potentially different infection strategies employed by the fungal entomopathogens we investigated.
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De Bekker, Charissa
Master of Science (M.S.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Campus-only Access)
Vermeulen, Sophia, "The Micro World of Zombie Ants: Micro-Computed Tomography and Microbiome Analysis of Camponotus floridanus" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1744.
Restricted to the UCF community until August 2028; it will then be open access.