Aussie-Led Research Learns About The Termite Gut

The threat of termite infestation in any Aussie home means that pest control businesses can make a profit providing termite inspections in Sydney, and homeowners are paying close attention to anything that can help them keep their homes termite-free.

Fittingly enough, the University of Sydney recently released a new paper on the little buggers, which details the a unique attribute that may have contributed to their spread across Australia.

The international research paper, with the University of Sydney at the helm, noted that termite guts host a notable range of microorganisms, which allow them to eat the things they do; wood, soil, and other materials that would normally be considered indigestible. Most of these microorganisms are not only unique to the termite, but that they are also passed along to descendants, as well as to other termites in the colony and related termite species.

The research paper, lengthily titled “Rampant host switching shaped the termite gut microbiome” was lead by the University of Sydney’s Professor Nathan Lo, and was published on the 8th of February via the scientific journal Current Biology.

Professor Lo is one of the co-leaders of the University of Sydney’s Molecular Ecology, Evolution and Phylogenetics laboratory, who says that termites have become one of the juggernaut species of the animal world, despite their small size, and that their global cumulative weight had passed the total of humans, becoming second only to cattle.

The paper also noted that the microbiome present in termite guts is one of the most complex in any animal species, and has evolved over time, allowing termites to diversify their diet, which started out from wood. The research included in its scope not only the termites plaguing homes, and leading to an increase in termite inspections in Sydney, but also those that eat grass, and soil.

Professor Lo says that the termite gut can have over 5000 different species of microbes, each numbering in the multiple thousands.

How this microbiome formed has long since been a puzzle to biologists. In order to discover, Professor Lo and his team sequenced the DNA of the microbes found in termite guts, comparing them with different kinds of microbes found in different environments, such as agriculture and industrial plants.

The research paper’s team was co-lead by the University of Sydney and the Okinawa Institute of Science & Technology Graduate University, with coverage including Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Singapore.

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