Reducing their natural signals: How sneaky germs hide from ants
Published:16 Feb.2023    Source:Institute of Science and Technology Austria

 Not only humans are social, ants are too. Group members are taking care of sick ones by providing collective hygiene measures. This presents germs with a task. They must circumvent the immunity of an individual ant and avoid the group's healthcare. A new study now published in Nature Ecology & Evolution reveals that germs develop a sneaky way to escape the ant colony's defense systems by reducing their detection cues.

Pathogens are disease-causing organisms. By natural selection, they develop evading mechanisms to outsmart the host's immune system and to get the upper hand. One way to support the immune system and fight back is medical intervention. However, this can lead to unwanted adaptions of pathogens as seen in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another strategy is social intervention. Some social groups like ants are trying to fight infection with "social immunity," the collective hygiene and health care measures to avoid spreading throughout the community. If and how pathogens can respond to this kind of group behavior, is still unknown.