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Title: Chemical Gradients of Plant Substrates in an Atta texana Fungus Garden
ABSTRACT Many ant species grow fungus gardens that predigest food as an essential step of the ants’ nutrient uptake. These symbiotic fungus gardens have long been studied and feature a gradient of increasing substrate degradation from top to bottom. To further facilitate the study of fungus gardens and enable the understanding of the predigestion process in more detail than currently known, we applied recent mass spectrometry-based approaches and generated a three-dimensional (3D) molecular map of an Atta texana fungus garden to reveal chemical modifications as plant substrates pass through it. The metabolomics approach presented in this study can be applied to study similar processes in natural environments to compare with lab-maintained ecosystems. IMPORTANCE The study of complex ecosystems requires an understanding of the chemical processes involving molecules from several sources. Some of the molecules present in fungus-growing ants’ symbiotic system originate from plants. To facilitate the study of fungus gardens from a chemical perspective, we provide a molecular map of an Atta texana fungus garden to reveal chemical modifications as plant substrates pass through it. The metabolomics approach presented in this study can be applied to study similar processes in natural environments.
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Schadt, Christopher W.
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National Science Foundation
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