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UEA team present ‘Leafcutter Ants and their Antibiotics’ at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

A team of scientists from the University of East Anglia will be presenting their research into ‘Leafcutter Ants and their Antibiotics’ at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2014 this summer.

Dr Matt Hutchings and his team of scientists at the University of East Anglia are examining underexplored environments such as the deep sea and leafcutter ant nests in the hope they will provide us with the next generation of antibiotics.

Leafcutter ants from South and Central America love to eat a particular kind of fungus, which the worker ants protect using natural antibiotics produced by bacteria on their bodies.

In fact most of our antibiotics come from "natural products" like this, made by a group of bacteria called actinomycetes that live in the soil. But when soil bacteria produce these antibiotics they also express resistance genes, to protect themselves against the antibiotic's toxic effects. Unfortunately, these resistance genes have spread to other "bad" bacteria, causing antibiotic-resistant strains to evolve which current antibiotics are powerless to treat.

The UEA scientists are interested in antibiotics from these under-explored environments because they may provide new medicines for treating human disease. They are also using the ants to try and understand how animals establish beneficial relationships (symbioses) with useful bacteria.

Matt and his team will be showcasing their captive leafcutter ant colony plus an ‘antibiotic discovery zone’ at the cutting-edge science and technology Summer Science Exhibition, 1—6 July 2014, London with free entry for all ages.

A short animation explaining the research can be seen here 

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