Genetic Underpinnings of Host Manipulation by Ophiocordyceps as Revealed by Comparative Transcriptomics

G3 (Bethesda). 2020 Jul 7;10(7):2275-2296. doi: 10.1534/g3.120.401290.


Ant-infecting Ophiocordyceps fungi are globally distributed, host manipulating, specialist parasites that drive aberrant behaviors in infected ants, at a lethal cost to the host. An apparent increase in activity and wandering behaviors precedes a final summiting and biting behavior onto vegetation, which positions the manipulated ant in a site beneficial for fungal growth and transmission. We investigated the genetic underpinnings of host manipulation by: (i) producing a high-quality hybrid assembly and annotation of the Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani genome, (ii) conducting laboratory infections coupled with RNAseq of O. camponoti-floridani and its host, Camponotus floridanus, and (iii) comparing these data to RNAseq data of Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae and Camponotus castaneus as a powerful method to identify gene expression patterns that suggest shared behavioral manipulation mechanisms across Ophiocordyceps-ant species interactions. We propose differentially expressed genes tied to ant neurobiology, odor response, circadian rhythms, and foraging behavior may result by activity of putative fungal effectors such as enterotoxins, aflatrem, and mechanisms disrupting feeding behaviors in the ant.

Keywords: Parasitic manipulation; ants; fungi; molecular host-parasite interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants* / genetics
  • Hypocreales* / genetics
  • Transcriptome

Supplementary concepts

  • Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani
  • Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae