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The fungus cultivated by the leaf cutting ants attinae intracellular changes in hyphae during development

The fungus cultivated by the leaf cutting ants attinae intracellular changes in hyphae during development

Annales des Sciences Naturelles Botanique et Biologie Vegetale 7(2): 103-130

In the American inter-tropical region. Attine ants defoliate and employ the remains as a substrate for fungal cultivation. The success of such culture is an essential condition for the ants' survival. Strains associated with the genera Atta, Acromyrmex and Trachymyrmex cannot be identified as they lack fructifications. In nature or in pure culture, the mycelium develops unique formations called gongylidia (spherules) which develop on ramified hyphae. Morphogenetic stages in the formation of gongylidia are: inhibition of apical growth, enlargement and spherulization of hyphae, progressive vacuolization and autolysis of the cytoplasm and a mixture of cytoplasm and vacuome to form mictoplasm. The most original modification is: the increase of the vacuoles system at the expense of other cellular components. Later vacuolization in gongylidia proceeds until a final cytoplasmic autolysis. In the degenerated staphylae, the cellular digestive process seems to require lysosomal enzyme activities. The formation of 15-60 nm lipoproteic particles is probably connected with lytic activities. The ants prefer staphylae to hyphae for food. This choice of degenerate staphylae can be explained by the process of enzymatic hydrolysis of cellular components in the gongylidia, giving a predigested biological material edible to ants which cannot digest normal hyphae.

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