Science News

Ant-i Fungus

Sun, 12th Dec 2004

Part of the show Superbugs, MRSA, Phages & Bdellovibrio.

A newly-identified fungus discovered by scientists in the US may provide the perfect Trojan Horse for getting rid of ant and termite infestations without needing to resort to pesticides or dangerous chemicals. Previous attempts to use fungi to wipe out unwanted nests of ants and termites have failed because the animals normally avoid fungi like the plague, because the spores can proove lethal to the colony. They even post guards to sniff out and bar infected individuals from the nest. But before it produces any lethal spores, the newly discovered fungus secretes a substance which ants and termites find irrestible. They collect it and carry it back to the nest, and have even been known to turn it into a bed for the queen. Shortly afterwards, however, the fungus begins to produce spores which infect and kill every member of the nest. Even better, once the nest has been wiped out, the smell of the residual spores deters re-infestations by fresh colonies of insects. Paul Stamets, who made the discovery and has now set up a company to commercialise his green means of pest control, is currently screening different strains of the fungus to find specimens which are slower to begin spore production, which would provide sufficient time for nests to become loaded with fungus to ensure efficient and complete destruction of the occupants.

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