The biodiversity of animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria that we know of is possible thanks to the association of these organisms with their symbiotic microbials. However there are still many unanswered questions: What ecological factors structure microbial communities? How do microbial communities interact within their host? Which microorganisms are co-diversifying with the host on an evolutionary scale? How are these microorganisms acquired and remain associated with their host?
As a cellular and molecular biologist, I strive to answer these and related questions by determining the biological patterns and processes that shape these symbioses. This I do through a combination of molecular methods, next-generation sequencing, microscopy, several bioinformatic tools and natural history.
Highlighted below are several projects that I had the opportunity to be part of.
Development but not diet alters microbial communities in the Neotropical arboreal trap jaw ant Daceton armigerum.
In this project, my collaborators and I sought to investigate several ecological factors that can impact the microbial community (16S rRNA and 18S rRNA) associated with Daceton. Unexpectedly, the diet was not a factor that impacted the microbial communities associated with ant workers of this species. Working with this species of ant was an immense opportunity! In addition, they are also very beautiful! https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64393-7
Bacterial community associated with leaf-cutting ant Atta sexdens and different habitats.
Using high-throughput amplicon sequencing of 16S rRNA gene, this is the first study that compared the bacterial communities of A. sexdens in natural habitats, such as Cerrado and Atlantic Forest, to those in agricultural habitats (sugar cane, citrus and eucalyptus). As well, the first that considered geographic location (West, Center, East, South, and North of the state of São Paulo-Brazil), showing that all these factors may influence microbial diversity. Although it does not have a core bacterial community as already found in other species of ants, the bacterial community associated with Atta sexdens appears to be more transient, and therefore can be variable according to the environment. Knowledge about this insect-associated microbiota may help to develop strategies to increase insect pest resistance in agricultural habitats, as well as identify bacteria that can act as bioremediators of pesticides and help recover degraded areas. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11060332
Camponotini microbiome project: Camponotus, Colobopsis and Polyrhachis.
Ants belonging to the Camponotini tribe have wide distribution, diversified habits, and are often associated with endosymbionts. However, there are few studies in this area, and many questions remain about these associations. Through a New Generation Sequencing technique (NGS), the present study aimed: I. To explore the microbial community of several species of Polyrhachis distributed throughout its range and to verify the factors that influence it. II. Characterize the bacterial community associated with the genus Colobopsis and Camponotus and analyze if there were differences in the composition of the bacterial community when compared between different genera, colonies and at all stages of development; III. To determine how the distribution of the bacterial community occurs in the different parts of the body (head, mesosome and gaster) of Camponotus, and if this diversity is associated with the environment where these Camponotus were collected; IV. To characterize the ovary of Camponotus textor using histology techniques (HE), to document the location of Blochmannia and Wolbachia in oogenesis by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), and to suggest the mechanism of development that these bacteria use to reach the egg. These studies have demonstrated that there are several factors that can influence the ant-associated bacterial community, such as host phylogeny, genera, colony, ontogeny, different body parts, and the environment the ant was collected. In addition, it was possible to suggest adaptive mechanisms that guarantee that the main bacteria reach the egg.
This project was my Ph.D thesis of four chapters that resulted in the following papers: https://bmcevolbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12862-017-0945-8; https://doi.org/10.4236/ae.2019.73005; https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s00284-018-1459-3.pdf; https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0187461&type=printable
Wolbachia, Wolbachia and more Wolbachia.
It is one of the most common bacteria in insects, and it is not yet known what consequences it has for the host, especially when the host is as diverse as ants are. Needless to say, this is fascinating to me, right?! Thus, since my master’s degree, I have been studying the interaction of this diverse bacterium in several different groups of ants. With each study, we learn a little more about this… but we still have a long way to go. https://doi.org/10.1093/aesa/saaa053; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12110426; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13744-019-00735-z; https://doi.org/10.1007/s00284-019-01722-8.
More ants-related projects.
My training as a cellular and molecular biologist allows me to work in several other projects and papers that involve advanced molecular techniques and bioinformatics tools. Therefore, I have several collaborators with other backgrounds such as taxonomist and systematic, ecologists, agroecologist, among others. I believe that a multidisciplinary view can bring quality to science, so I am always willing to learn and collaborate. https://revistas.unilasalle.edu.br/index.php/Rbca/article/view/4048/pdf; https://academic.oup.com/jee/article/110/4/1841/3852640; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10709-016-9906-1; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13744-016-0392-z
Accessing diversity and inclusion in science.
Making the world a better place through science is one of my goals. So, I believe that we need to look for ways to really act and transform science into an inclusive and diverse environment. However, many scientists still do not understand the urgency and importance of this. If it is data what they want, data is provided, in addition to a series of suggestions on how to make science more inclusive and diverse. My collaborators and I have already been involved in papers that seek to access female representation in the career of myrmecology (study of ants!), as well as the impact of the arrival of children in the career of a scientist. These types of projects generate data that provide input for changes in the scenario not only in the field of myrmecology, but in other careers of STEM and for all underrepresented groups in science. All the injustices of underrepresented groups in science were further aggravated in this pandemic period, and therefore more ideas and projects are still needed to achieve equity within science fields. https://doi.org/10.46357/bcnaturais.v15i1.241; https://doi.org/10.46357/bcnaturais.v15i1.255; https://doi.org/10.1590/2236-8906-81/2020; https://periodicos. uffs.edu.br/index.php /RBEU/article/ view/10768/pdf