The fungus Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani (Ophcf) infects Camponotus floridanus carpenter ants and manipulates them to climb to a high tree branch, bite down on foliage and die. Post ant death, the fungus grows out of the ant and spreads spores for reproduction. I investigated the function of an Ophcf gene product highly activated during the behavioral manipulation of these “zombie ants”; an enterotoxin. I have created an expression vector and heterologously expressed this enterotoxin in Cordyceps bassiana (Cbass), a related fungus that does not normally manipulate behavior. This process includes gene amplification, Golden Gate vector cloning in E. coli, A. tumefaciens-mediated transformation to Cbass, and RT-qPCR to verify heterologous gene expression. This was followed by carpenter ant infections with transgenic Cbass (EntB), wildtype Cbass (infected control), and sham (non-infected control) infected ants. Subsequent behavioral observations using tracking system MARGO (Werkhoven et al., 2019) have detected changes in activity levels of ants infected with both transgenic and WT Cbass compared to sham infected ants. This supports previously qualitative descriptions of increased activity caused during infection with WT Cbass (Trinh, 2020). There is a slight but insignificantly higher activity response from EntB compared to WT infected ants over the course of the trial that may be indicative of Ophcf induced changes that are different from general sickness behavior. Additional replicates are necessary to discern if these findings are statistically robust. Future studies should administer this enterotoxin expressing Cbass to observe inter-social behaviors of Carpenter ants. If the enterotoxin is sufficient to elicit one of the side effects of typical Ophcf infection, this would justify further characterization of the proteins and their functions in altering C. floridanus behavior. This characterization could yield information applicable to other parasite-host relationships as well.
de Bekker, Charissa
Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Burris, Devin, "Exploration of the Role of Florida "Zombie Ant" Fungus Enterotoxin in Carpenter Ant Behavioral Manipulation" (2022). Honors Undergraduate Theses. 1118.
Restricted to the UCF community until 5-1-2025; it will then be open access.