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Prolonging life: how parasites manipulate ant ageing

Jun 24, 2023

Anomotaenia brevis, a parasite, ingeniously manipulates its intermediate host, the ant Temnothorax nylanderi, by altering its lifespan, behaviour, and physical characteristics to ensure its transmission to the definitive host, woodpeckers. This manipulation involves the parasite introducing specific proteins into the ants, which notably includes antioxidants and some that are either novel or have recently evolved to influence the host. Additionally, the infection causes the ants to overproduce a protein, vitellogenin-like-A, which is known to regulate their division of labour, potentially explaining observed behavioural changes.


The parasite appears to manipulate its host through two main strategies: directly influencing the host’s phenotype by secreting proteins and altering the host’s protein production. This interaction showcases a complex molecular dialogue between parasite and host, revealing potential pathways and genes crucial for parasite-host communication and manipulation.


Key takeaways: Long live the host! Proteomic analysis reveals possible strategies for parasitic manipulation of its social host


  • Parasite-host relationship: The parasite manipulates the ant in various ways to ensure it gets transferred to its definitive host
  • Manipulation strategies: Infected ants experience an extended lifespan and changes in behaviour, morphology, and colouration. The parasite introduces proteins into the ants, which are believed to cause these changes
  • Proteins from parasite: Some of the proteins introduced by the parasite are antioxidants. Others are either new or have evolved recently to manipulate the host. A significant portion of the proteins found in the ants’ haemolymph (a fluid equivalent to blood) are from the parasite
  • Impact on ant’s proteins: The infection causes changes in the ants’ own proteins. Notably, there is an overabundance of vitellogenin-like-A, a protein that regulates division of labour in ants, which might explain the behavioural changes observed


Reference: Hartke, J., Ceron-Noriega, A., Stoldt, M., Sistermans, T., Kever, M., Fuchs, J., Butter, F., & Foitzik, S. (2023). Long live the host! Proteomic analysis reveals possible strategies for parasitic manipulation of its social host. bioRxiv.