Reciprocal genomic evolution in the ant-fungus agricultural symbiosis

Sanne Nygaard, Haofu Hu, Cai Li, Morten Schiøtt, Zhensheng Chen, Zhikai Yang, Qiaolin Xie, Chunyu Ma, Yuan Deng, Rebecca B. Dikow, Christian Rabeling, David R. Nash, William T. Wcislo, Sean G. Brady, Ted R. Schultz, Guojie Zhang, Jacobus J. Boomsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


The attine ant-fungus agricultural symbiosis evolved over tens of millions of years, producing complex societies with industrial-scale farming analogous to that of humans. Here we document reciprocal shifts in the genomes and transcriptomes of seven fungus-farming ant species and their fungal cultivars. We show that ant subsistence farming probably originated in the early Tertiary (55-60 MYA), followed by further transitions to the farming of fully domesticated cultivars and leaf-cutting, both arising earlier than previously estimated. Evolutionary modifications in the ants include unprecedented rates of genome-wide structural rearrangement, early loss of arginine biosynthesis and positive selection on chitinase pathways. Modifications of fungal cultivars include loss of a key ligninase domain, changes in chitin synthesis and a reduction in carbohydrate-degrading enzymes as the ants gradually transitioned to functional herbivory. In contrast to human farming, increasing dependence on a single cultivar lineage appears to have been essential to the origin of industrial-scale ant agriculture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12233
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - Jul 20 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


Dive into the research topics of 'Reciprocal genomic evolution in the ant-fungus agricultural symbiosis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this