Ants protect plants from diseases by leaking infection-fighting chemicals out of their legs and bodies, study reveals

4th November 2019

Ants can protect plants from certain diseases thanks to the infection-fighting antibiotic chemicals they secrete from their legs and bodies, a study has found.

The findings suggest that the benefits of these antibiotics to plants may be as significant as the service ants provide in defending plants from herbivores.

Researchers reviewing the literature on interactions between ants and plant microorganisms found that the insects can reduce infections of 14 plant diseases.

As they live in close quarters in ant hills and colonies, they are at high risk in the event of a spreading infection.

To combat this, however, ants are very hygienic and produce antibiotics that can help to cure themselves. These are secreted by glands on their body.

In addition, the insects support colonies of bacteria on their legs that also produce antibiotics.

Researchers hope in the future that further work on ants will reveal natural pesticides that can be applied to fight resistant plant diseases.

Ants can protect plants from certain diseases thanks to the infection-fighting antibiotic chemicals they secrete from their legs and bodies, a study has found

Bioscientists Joachim Offenberg and Christian Damgaard of Aarhus University, Denmark reviewed existing literature on interactions between ants, tropical plants and disease-caused microorganisms.

They wanted to find out if different ants’ hygiene methods — which include the production of antibiotics — could have effects that extend to their host plants.

The duo had been inspired to investigate by previous research that had shown the introduction of wood ants to an apple plantation reduced the occurrence of the diseases apple rot and scab on the trees.

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