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Study sheds light on antibiotics produced by ants

Desert fire ants collecting nectar

Foragers of the desert fire ant Solenopsis xyloni collect flower nectar. A recent study found that ants in this genus produce some of the strongest antimicrobials measured in social insects.

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Ants, like humans, deal with disease. To deal with the bacteria that cause some of these diseases, some ants produce their own antibiotics.

A recent comparative study by researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) identified some ant species that make use of powerful antimicrobial agents and found that 40 percent of the ant species tested did not appear to produce antibiotics. The study has applications regarding the search for new antibiotics that can be used in humans.

"These findings suggest that ants could be a future source of new antibiotics to help fight human diseases," says Clint Penick, an assistant research professor at ASU and former postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University and lead author of the study.

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (grants DBI 15-23817, DEB 09-53390 and DRL 13-19293).

Read more in the NSF News From the Field story Study sheds new light on antibiotics produced by ants. (Date image taken: 2008; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: June 20, 2018)

Credit: Clint Penick, The Biomimicry Center, Arizona State University
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