Symbiont-Mediated Digestion of Plant Biomass in Fungus-Farming Insects

Annu Rev Entomol. 2021 Jan 7:66:297-316. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-040920-061140. Epub 2020 Sep 14.


Feeding on living or dead plant material is widespread in insects. Seminal work on termites and aphids has provided profound insights into the critical nutritional role that microbes play in plant-feeding insects. Some ants, beetles, and termites, among others, have evolved the ability to use microbes to gain indirect access to plant substrate through the farming of a fungus on which they feed. Recent genomic studies, including studies of insect hosts and fungal and bacterial symbionts, as well as metagenomics and proteomics, have provided important insights into plant biomass digestion across insect-fungal mutualisms. Not only do advances in understanding of the divergent and complementary functions of complex symbionts reveal the mechanism of how these herbivorous insects catabolize plant biomass, but these symbionts also represent a promising reservoir for novel carbohydrate-active enzyme discovery, which is of considerable biotechnological interest.

Keywords: CAZymes; evolution; insect fungiculture; lignocellulose; symbiosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Biofuels
  • Biomass
  • Fungi*
  • Insecta / microbiology*
  • Plants
  • Symbiosis*


  • Biofuels