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Heidi Goodrich-Blair: Nematodes, bacteria, ants and curious compounds

[audio:|titles=Heidi Goodrich-Blaire on nematodes ants bacteria]

Heidi-Goodrich Blair, Professor
Department of Bacteriology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 265-4537

Ants in the cupboards?

3:15 – Total Time

0:18 – The interest in ants
0:35 – Example of symbiosis
0:59 – How the nematode/bacteria kill insects
1:26 – Discovery of novel compounds
1:59 – How the research may be applied
2:26 – Future of the research
3:05 – Lead out


Like to keep those pesky ants out of the cupboard? We’re visiting today with Heidi Goodrich Blair, department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Sevie: Heidi, welcome to our microphone.  First of all, why are you so interested in ants?

Heidi:  Well, I’m interested in ants from sort of a different perspective. I’m interested mostly in symbiosis…symbiosis meaning the mutually beneficial association between two organisms.

Sevie:  Can you give us an example of symbiosis and what this may mean?

Heidi:  I work on a symbiosis between a small round worm that lives in the soil and its symbiant, which is a bacterium called Xenorhabdus nematophila, that lives in its intestine, and what this bacterial symbiant does is to help the nematode reproduce inside insects.

Sevie: Heidi, can you describe to us how they do that?

Heidi:  The nematode carries the bacterium in its intestine and identifies an insect host that it might be able to infect. It jumps on top of that insect host and then bores a hole into the blood system of the insect , releases the bacterium and  then the bacterium kills the insect and that allows the nematode to reproduce inside this dead insect cadaver.

Sevie:  And, what have you noticed about these insects as they’re being devoured by the nematodes and the bacteria?

Heidi:  Well, one of the things we’ve noticed is what brought us to our interest in ants.  The bacteria produce a compound, we haven’t identified what this compound is yet, but it produces a compound… or more then one compound that ants don’t like.  So, usually ants will scavenge dead insect cadavers and use them are protein sources, but in these particular, infected cadavers, the bacteria has produced something that the ants don’t like.

Sevie: Can you give us some idea how this research may be applied?

Heidi:  Once we identify the compound, we might be able to first of all determine whether or not it has any other activities. For example, it might have activities against other pests. Ah, we might be able to produce it commercially so that people can use it in their homes to prevent ants from eating their food.

Sevie:  Heidi, can you look into your crystal ball a little bit for us and tell us perhaps where this research goes, five, ten, fifteen years from now?

Heidi:  I think that what we’ll be able to do is to make different types of nematode bacterium combinations that maybe can control certain insect pests that we can’t currently control.  We might be able to identify new compounds that are made by this bacterial symbiant that its making, because its trying to help its nematode host to reproduce inside insects, but we can harness those compounds and use them for other things like pharmaceuticals, things to even control cancer. I think this bacterium makes a lot of interesting compounds and we can use them for our purposes.

Sevie:  We’ve been visiting with Heidi Goodrich Blair, department of bacteriology, University of Wisconsin, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.