Behaviour manipulating fungi (BMF) and ant host
We use fungal insect parasites of the genus Ophiocordyceps as a model system to learn how certain microbes are able to control animal behaviour. These fungi are Ascomycetes that reside within the order Hypocreales (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Phylogenomic tree. Fungi within the grey coloured area are from the order Hypocreales
These fungi are generally complicated to work with since they are difficult to isolate and grow only slowly when cultured outside their insect host (Figs. 2, 3). However, since they are cultivable this allows for controlled insect infection experiments and the development of functional analyses.
Figure 2: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. grown on potato dextrose
Our main model system is an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. species (Fig. 2) isolated from Carpenter ants collected in South Carolina, USA. As a host we are using the ant Camponotus castaneus (Fig. 4). In addition, we are using Cordyceps bassiana to verify our novel approaches and concepts.