Species- and caste-specific gut metabolomes in fungus-farming termites.

Vidkjær NH, Schmidt S, Hu H, Bodawatta KH, Beemelmanns C, Poulsen M (2021) Species- and caste-specific gut metabolomes in fungus-farming termites. Metabolites 11(2), 839.


Fungus-farming termites host gut microbial communities that contribute to the pre-digestion of plant biomass for manuring the fungal mutualist, and potentially to the production of defensive compounds that suppress antagonists. Termite colonies are characterized by complex division of labor and differences in diet between termite size (minor and major) and morphological (worker and soldier) castes, and this extends to the composition of their gut microbial communities. We hypothesized that gut metabolomes should mirror these differences and tested this through untargeted LC-MS/MS analyses of three South African species of fungus-farming termites. We found distinct metabolomes between species and across castes, especially between soldiers and workers. Primary metabolites dominate the metabolomes and the high number of overlapping features with the mutualistic fungus and plant material show distinct impacts of diet and the environment. The identification of a few bioactive compounds of likely microbial origin underlines the potential for compound discovery among the many unannotated features. Our untargeted approach provides a first glimpse into the complex gut metabolomes and our dereplication suggests the presence of bioactive compounds with potential defensive roles to be targeted in future studies.


Christine Beemelmanns


doi: 10.3390/metabo11120839

PMID: 34940597