Atta cephalotes ©Alex Wild Photography
Leaf-cutter ants are one of the most important herbivorous insects in the Neotropics. These ants harvest vast quantities of fresh leaf material, which is used to cultivate a fungus that serves as the colony’s primary food source. This obligate ant-fungus mutualism is one of the few occurrences of farming by non-humans and likely facilitated the formation of their massive colonies. Leaf-cutter ant colonies display one of the most complex polymorphic caste systems, with workers ranging in size from small garden workers to large soldiers.
The genome of Atta cephalotes was sequenced using entirely 454 pyrosequencing technology. The members of the sequencing consortium published their findings in the journal PLoS Genetics of the Public Library of Science. Their results help to advance our understanding of eusociality and provide new insights into the biology of this ant and its complex symbiotic lifestyle.