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A Century of Synergy in Termite Symbiosis Research: Linking the Past with New Genomic Insights

Authors
  • Scharf, Michael E.
  • Peterson, Brittany F.
Type
Published Article
Publisher
Annual Reviews
Publication Date
Jan 07, 2021
Volume
66
Pages
23–43
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1146/annurev-ento-022420-074746
Source
Annual Reviews
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Termites have long been studied for their symbiotic associations with gut microbes. In the late nineteenth century, this relationship was poorly understood and captured the interest of parasitologists such as Joseph Leidy; this research led to that of twentieth-century biologists and entomologists including Cleveland, Hungate, Trager, and Lüscher. Early insights came via microscopy, organismal, and defaunation studies, which led to descriptions of microbes present, descriptions of the roles of symbionts in lignocellulose digestion, and early insights into energy gas utilization by the host termite. Focus then progressed to culture-dependent microbiology and biochemical studies of host–symbiont complementarity, which revealed specific microhabitat requirements for symbionts and noncellulosic mechanisms of symbiosis (e.g., N2 fixation). Today, knowledge on termite symbiosis has accrued exponentially thanks to omic technologies that reveal symbiont identities, functions, and interdependence, as well as intricacies of host–symbiont complementarity. Moving forward, the merging of classical twentieth-century approaches with evolving omic tools should provide even deeper insights into host–symbiont interplay.

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