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Model organisms

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).

Phylogeny of Hypocreales 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.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Figure 2: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. grown on potato dextrose

 Ophiocordyceps australisFigure 3: Ophiocordyceps australis 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.

 Camponotus castaneusFigure 4: Camponotus castaneus