Note on Emerging Science / Ants’ Social Immunity
Air Date: Week of May 11, 2012
Scientists have discovered that ant colonies function like a giant immune system. As Mary Bates reports, when one ant gets sick, others take action to immunize the rest of the colony.
GELLERMAN: Just ahead - Catching the ferry to Cliff Island, Maine. A trip back in time to see if the place has a future. But first, this Note on Emerging Science from Mary Bates.
[SOUNDS FROM THE MOVIE “ANTZ”: “A soldier knows that the life of an individual ant does not matter. What matters is the colony. He’s willing to live for the colony, to fight for the colony, to die for the colony.”]
BATES: General Mandible in the movie “Antz,” inspired soldier ants to join together in their fight against termites. It turns out, in the real world, ants work together not just to defend themselves from other bugs, but in the fight against disease.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
BATES: Ant colonies are like tiny, crowded cities. Like cities, there is a high risk of disease outbreaks. But scientists from the Institute of Science and Technology in Austria found ants have a system for keeping outbreaks in check.
The researchers applied fluorescent fungal spores to some ants and followed the sick ants’ interactions with nest-mates over two days. They watched as the spores spread throughout the colony without causing a major disease outbreak.
They discovered that ants do not avoid their sick friends. Instead, they lick them to remove pathogens from their bodies. By grooming an infected ant, the helper ant catches a low-level infection. This infection acts as a vaccination, revving up immune genes that help the ant fight off the pathogen.
Only two percent of an infected ant’s nestmates died after grooming their diseased comrade, while more than sixty percent enjoyed a stimulated immune system.
Taking care of sick ants and sharing germs protects the entire colony from disease. It gives new meaning to share and share alike.
That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Mary Bates.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth