Termites and Their Symbionts

Studying the microbiome of social insects, such as termites, helps to identify new aspects of small-molecule mediated symbiotic relations. At the same time it serves platform to identify new antibacterial and antifungal agents.

Fungus-Growing Termites

The fungus-growing termite system is a prime example of multilateral symbiosis. The ancient farming symbiosis involves a termite host (Macrotermitinae), a specialized fungal mutualist (Termitomyces) maintained in an optimized fungal garden system (fungus comb), the presence of complex and highly adapted bacterial communities within the insect gut and fungus comb, and the co-evolved garden weed (Pseudoxylaria).

Natural Products from Protective Symbionts

Within this project, we aim to isolate, characterize and understand the role of natural products produced by microorganisms associated with fungus-growing termites. We used various different culturing techniques to isolate termite-associated microbes and pursued the whole genome sequence of several key isolates. Subsequent chemical analysis of our isolates in axenic and co-cultures revealed several new natural product classes showing a diverse set of biological activities.

Biosynthetic Pathway Analysis

We have sequenced the genomes of selected new microbial species to analyze their biosynthetic potential and potentially detect new natural products. The comparative analysis of the acquired genomic information likely reveals new biosynthetic enzymes and new biochemical transformations.

Video clip about our research project

Termine Fungiculture – A Hidden Treasure Trove

Our Collaborations


Conlon BH, Gostinčar C, Fricke J, Kreuzenbeck N, Daniel JM, Schlosser MSL, Peereboom N, Aanen DK, de Beer ZW, Beemelmanns C, Gunde-Cimerman N, Poulsen M (2021) Genome reduction and relaxed selection is associated with the transition to symbiosis in the basidiomycete genus Podaxis. iScience [Accepted] Details

Murphy R, Benndorf R, De Beer ZW, Vollmers J, Kaster AK, Beemelmanns C, Poulsen M (2021) Comparative genomics reveals sanitary and catabolic capabilities of Actinobacteria within the fungus-farming termite symbiosis. mSphere [Accepted] Details

Schalk F, Fricke J, Um S, Conlon BH, Maus H, Jäger N, Heinzel T, Schirmeister T, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2021) GNPS-guided discovery of xylacremolide C and D, evaluation of their putative biosynthetic origin and bioactivity studies of xylacremolide A and B. RSC Advances [Accepted] Details

Schalk F, Gostinčar C, Kreuzenbeck NB, Schantz-Conlon BH, Sommerwerk E, Rabe P, Burkhardt I, Krüger T, Kniemeyer O, Brakhage AA, Gunde-Cimerman N, De Beer WZ, Dickschat JS, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2021) The termite fungal cultivar Termitomyces combines diverse enzymes and oxidative reactions for plant biomass conversion. mBio [Accepted] Details PDF

Schorn, M.A., Verhoeven, S., Ridder, L. et al (2021) A community resource for paired genomic and metabolomic data mining. Nat Chem Biol [Epub ahead of print] Details PubMed Open Access Data

Sinotte VM, Conlon BH, Seibel E, Schwitalla JW, de Beer ZW, Poulsen M, Bos N (2021) Female‐biased sex allocation and lack of inbreeding avoidance in Cubitermes termites. Ecol Evol [Epub ahead of print] Details Open Access Code

Um S, Seibel E, Schalk F, Balluf S, Beemelmanns C (2021) Targeted isolation of saalfelduracin B-D from Amycolatopsis saalfeldensis using LC-MS/MS-based molecular networking. J Nat Prod [Accepted] Details Open Access

Benndorf R, Martin K, Küfner M, de Beer ZW, Vollmers J, Kaster AK, Beemelmanns C (2020) Actinomadura rubteroloni sp. nov. and Actinomadura macrotermitis sp. nov., isolated from the gut of the fungus growing-termite Macrotermes natalensis. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol 70(10), 5255-5262. Details PubMed Open Access

Benndorf R, Schwitalla JW, Martin K, de Beer ZW, Vollmers J, Kaster AK, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2020) Nocardia macrotermitis sp. nov. and Nocardia aurantia sp. nov., isolated from the gut of the fungus-growing termite Macrotermes natalensis. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol 70(10), 5226-5234. Details PubMed Open Access

Guo H, Schwitalla JW, Benndorf R, Baunach M, Steinbeck C, Görls H, de Beer ZW, Regestein L, Beemelmanns C (2020) Gene cluster activation in a bacterial symbiont leads to halogenated angucyclic maduralactomycins and spirocyclic actinospirols. Org Lett 22(7), 2634-2638. Details PubMed

Hubert P, Seibel E, Beemelmanns C, Campagne JM, de Figueiredo RM (2020) Stereoselective construction of (E,Z)-1,3-dienes and its application in natural product synthesis. Adv Synth Catal 362(24), 5532-5575. (Review) Details

Lee SR, Kreuzenberg NB, Jang M, Oh T, Ko SK, Ahn JS, Beemelmanns C, Kim KH (2020) Xyloneside A: A new glycosylated incisterol derivative from Xylaria sp. FB. ChemBioChem 21(16), 2253-2258. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Lee SR, Lee D, Park M, Lee JC, Park HJ, Kang KS, Kim CE, Beemelmanns C, Kim KH (2020) Absolute configuration and corrected NMR assignment of 17-hydroxycyclooctatin, a fused 5-8-5 tricyclic diterpene. J Nat Prod 83(2), 354-361. Details PubMed

Rak Lee S, Schalk F, Schwitalla JW, Benndorf R, Vollmers J, Kaster AK, de Beer ZW, Park M, Ahn MJ, Jung WH, Beemelmanns C, Kim KH (2020) Polyhalogenation of isoflavonoids by the termite-associated Actinomadura sp. RB99. J Nat Prod 83(10), 3102-3110. Details PubMed Code

Schalk F, Um S, Guo H, Kreuzenbeck NB, Görls H, de Beer ZW, Beemelmanns C (2020) Targeted discovery of tetrapeptides and cyclic polyketide‐peptide hybrids from a fungal antagonist of farming termites. ChemBioChem 21(20), 2991-2996. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Schwitalla JW, Benndorf R, Martin K, Vollmers J, Kaster AK, de Beer ZW, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2020) Steptomyces smaragdinus sp. nov. isolated from the gut of fungus growing-termite Macrotermes natalensis. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol 70(11), 5806-5811. Details PubMed Open Access PDF Code

Burkhardt I, Kreuzenbeck N, Beemelmanns C, Dickschat J (2019) Mechanistic characterization of three sesquiterpene synthases from the termite-associated fungus Termitomyces. Org Biol Chem 17(13), 3348-3355. Details PubMed

Conlon BH, Aanen DK, Beemelmanns C, de Beer ZW, De Fine Lichte HH, Gunde-Cimerman N, Schiøtt M, Poulsen M (2019) Reviewing the taxonomy of podaxis: Opportunities for understanding extreme fungal lifestyles. Fungal Biol 123(3), 183-187. (Review) Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Guo H, Roman D, Beemelmanns C (2019) Tropolone natural products. Nat Prod Rep 36(8), 1137-1155. (Review) Details PubMed

Klassen JL, Lee SR, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C*, Kim KH* (2019) Efomycins K and L from a termite-associated Streptomyces sp. M56 and their putative biosynthetic origin. Front Microbiol 10, 1739. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Lee SR, Küfner M, Park M, Jung WH, Choi SU, Beemelmanns C, Kim KH (2019) Beauvetetraones A-C, phomaligadione-derived polyketide dimers from the entomopathogenic fungus, Beauveria bassiana. Org Chem Front 6, 162-166. Details

Otani S, Challinor V, Kreuzenbeck N, Kildgaard S, Christensen S, Larsen L, Aanen D, Rasmussen SA, Beemelmanns C, Poulsen M (2019) Disease-free monoculture farming by fungus-growing termites. Sci Rep 9(1), 8819. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Yoon SY, Lee SR, Hwang JY, Benndorf R, Beemelmanns C, Chung SJ, Kim KH (2019) Fridamycin A, a microbial natural product, stimulates glucose uptake without inducing adipogenesis. Nutrients 11(4), 765. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Benndorf R, Guo H, Sommerwerk E, Weigel C, Garcia-Altares M, Martin K, Hu H, Kuefner M, de Beer ZW, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2018) Natural products from Actinobacteria associated with fungus-growing termites. Antibiotics 7(3), 83. Details PubMed Open Access

Guo H, Schmidt A, Stephan P, Raguž L, Braga D, Kaiser M, Dahse HM, Weigel C, Lackner G, Beemelmanns C (2018) Precursor-directed diversification of cyclic tetrapeptidic pseudoxylallemycins. ChemBioChem 19(21), 2307-2311. Details PubMed

Lee RS, Lee D, Yu JS, Benndorf R, Lee S, Lee DS, Huh J, de Beer ZW, Kim YH, Beemelmanns C, Kang KS, Kim KH (2018) Natalenamides A-C, cyclic tripeptides from the termite-associated Actinomadura sp. RB99. Molecules 23(11), 3003. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Lee SR, Song JH, Song JH, Ko HJ, Baek JY, Trinh TA, Beemelmanns C, Yamabe N, Kim KH (2018) Chemical identification of isoflavonoids from a termite-associated Streptomyces sp. RB1 and their neuroprotective effects in murine hippocampal HT22 cell line. Int J Mol Sci 19(9), 2640. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Park YJ, Lee SR, Kim DM, Yu JS, Beemelmanns C, Chung KH, Kim KH (2018) The inhibitory effects of cyclodepsipeptides from the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana on myofibroblast differentiation in A549 alveolar epithelial cells. Molecules 23(10), 2568. Details PubMed Open Access PDF

Beemelmanns C, Ramadhar TR, Kim KH, Klassen JL, Cao S, Wyche TP, Hou Y, Poulsen M, Bugni TS, Currie CR, Clardy J (2017) Macrotermycins A-D, Glycosylated Macrolactams from a Termite-Associated Amycolatopsis sp. M39. Org Lett 19(5), 1000-1003. Details PubMed Code

Benndorf R, Leichnitz D, Rischer M, Beemelmanns C (2017) Wie sich Bakterien schützen. Nachrichten aus der Chemie 65(1), 21-25. (Review) Details Open Access Code

Guo H, Benndorf R, Leichnitz D, Klassen JL, Vollmers J, Görls H, Steinacker M, Weigel C, Dahse HM, Kaster AK, de Beer ZW, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2017) Isolation, biosynthesis and chemical modifications of rubterolones A–F, rare tropolone alkaloids from Actinomadura sp. 5-2. Chem Eur J 23(39), 9338-9345. Details PubMed Code

Wyche TP, Ruzzini AC, Beemelmanns C, Kim KH, Klassen JL, Cao S, Poulsen M, Bugni TS, Currie CR, Clardy J (2017) Linear Peptides Are the Major Products of a Biosynthetic Pathway That Encodes for Cyclic Depsipeptides. Org Lett 19(7), 1772-1775. Details PubMed Code

Beemelmanns C, Guo H, Rischer M, Poulsen M (2016) Natural products from microbes associated with insects. Beilstein J Org Chem 12, 314-327. Details PubMed Open Access Code

Guo H, Kreuzenbeck NB, Otani S, Garcia-Altares M, Dahse HM, Weigel C, Aanen DK, Hertweck C, Poulsen M, Beemelmanns C (2016) Pseudoxylallemycins A-F, cyclic tetrapeptides with rare allenyl modifications isolated from Pseudoxylaria sp. X802: A competitor of fungus-growing termite cultivars. Org Lett 18, 3338-3341. Details PubMed

Kang HR, Lee D, Benndorf R, Jung WH, Beemelmanns C, Kang KS, Kim KH (2016) Termisoflavones A-C, Isoflavonoid Glycosides from Termite-Associated Streptomyces sp. RB1. J Nat Prod 79(12), 3072-3078. Details PubMed

Lee SR, Beemelmanns C, Tsumac LMM, Clardy J, Cao S, Kim KH (2016) A New Diketopiperazine, Cyclo(D-trans-Hyp-L-Leu) from a Kenyan Bacterium Bacillus licheniformis LB 8CT Nat Prod Commun 4(11), 461-463. Details

Rischer M, Neumann R, Domey S (2016) DNA Extraction from Fungi Environmental Field Samples Promega Corporation Web site Details Open Access

Kim KH, Beemelmanns C, Clardy J, Cao S (2015) A new antibacterial octaketide and cytotoxic phenylethanoid glycosides from Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 14(25), 2834-2836. Details PubMed

Kim KH, Beemelmanns C, Murillo C, Guillén A, Umaña L, Tamayo-Castillo G., Kim SN, Clardy J, Cao, S (2014) Naphthalenones and isocoumarins from a Costa Rican fungus Xylariaceae sp. CR1546C Journal of Chemical Research 38(12), 722-725. Details

Kim KH, Ramadhar TR, Beemelmanns C, Cao S, Poulsen M, Currie CR, Clardy J (2014) Natalamycin A, an ansamycin from a termite-associated Streptomyces sp Chem. Sci. 5(11), 4333-4338. Details PubMed

Ramadhar TR, Beemelmanns C, Currie CR, Clardy J (2014) Bacterial symbionts in agricultural systems provide a strategic source for antibiotic discovery. J Antibiot (Tokyo) 67(1), 53-58. Details PubMed


Dr. Christine Beemelmanns


Phone: +49 3641 532-1525 Email: christine.beemelmanns@leibniz-hki.de

René Benndorf

Guest Scientist

Phone: +49 3641 532-1567 Email: rene.benndorf@leibniz-hki.de

Janis Fricke


Email: janis.fricke@leibniz-hki.de

Judith Hoffmann


Nina Kreuzenbeck

PhD student

Phone: +49 3641 532-1208 Email: nina.kreuzenbeck@leibniz-hki.de

Felix Schalk

PhD student

Phone: +49 3641 532-1262 Email: felix.schalk@leibniz-hki.de

Jan Schwitalla

PhD student

Phone: +49 3641 532-1525 Email: jan.schwitalla@leibniz-hki.de

Elena Seibel

PhD student

Phone: +49 3641 532-1226 Email: elena.seibel@leibniz-hki.de

Dr. Jae Sik Yu


Phone: +49 3641 532-1573 Email: Jae-Sik.Yu@leibniz-hki.de