Ant behavior exemplary for infections

Ant behavior exemplary for infections

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Exemplary behavior of ants in infections

Ants follow a relatively simple strategy to avoid the spread of infectious diseases within their population. They pay more attention to their own hygienic care and try to avoid the transmission of pathogens to other ants, according to the result of a joint study by researchers from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria and the Helmholtz Zentrum München.

The scientists led by Professor Sylvia Cremer from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria and Professor Fabian Theis from Helmholtz Zentrum München used an epidemiological model to investigate how cleaning behavior influences the spread of diseases in an ant population as part of their study. The researchers published their results in a special issue of the “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B”.

Strategies Against the Spread of Infections "Caring for yourself and trying not to infect others," according to the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, "is a good strategy to prevent the spread of an illness - not just as a considerate colleague, but also as an ant, meerkat or other social animal. ”The research carried out by the research team led by Professor Theis and Professor Cremer provides evidence of this. Without countermeasures, infectious diseases can spread quickly in societies, both for humans and for animals that live in larger populations. Mutual hygiene care and the care of sick individuals is therefore not limited to human societies, according to the scientists, "but also occurs in other groups of social animals, such as primates and social insects."

Changed cleaning behavior of the ants For their study, the researchers use "ant societies as a model system to monitor the hygienic reaction of ants to the risk of pathogens in the laboratory and to determine their impact on the course of the disease using epidemiological models," according to the Institute of Science and Technology Austria. Using garden ants (Lasius neglectus), they analyzed how the cleaning behavior of the animals changes when they come into contact with pathogenic fungal spores (meta-silicon). It was already known from previous studies that the infected ants were obviously cleaned much more frequently than the other animals, which was attributed to increased care by the healthy nest members. In their current study, however, the scientists came to the conclusion that "ants, when exposed to the fungus, clean themselves more often, but drastically reduce the cleaning of other, healthy nest members." This shift in cleaning behavior leads to social asymmetry cleaning, in which infectious ants are cleaned much more often than they clean others.

Successfully curbed the spread of pathogens According to the researchers, the epidemiological model has also shown “that the observed behavioral changes help to curb the spread of the pathogen in the ant colony.” Increasing self-care and limiting contact with others as long as you take a risk for their health could be a helpful strategy for all social animals. In the experiments, the healthy animals kept their care of sick ants constant, which, according to the scientists, also contributed to social immunization within the colony. A complete avoidance of contact with the sick animals would have been rather counterproductive here. (fp)

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