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Symbiotic streptomycetes provide antibiotic combination prophylaxis for wasp offspring


Beewolf digger wasps cultivate specific symbiotic bacteria (Streptomyces spp.) that are incorporated into the larval cocoon for protection against pathogens. We identified the molecular basis of this protective symbiosis in the natural context and demonstrate that the bacteria produce a 'cocktail' of nine antibiotic substances. The complementary action of all symbiont-produced antibiotics confers a potent antimicrobial defense for the wasp larvae that parallels the 'combination prophylaxis' known from human medicine.

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Figure 1: Wasp symbionts from female antennae produce an antibiotic cocktail on the larval cocoon.
Figure 2: Biological activity of antibiotic substances produced by beewolf symbionts.


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We acknowledge financial support from the Max Planck Society (J.K., B.S., R.K.M. and A.S.), the German Research Foundation Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (J.K., M.K. and E.S.), the Volkswagen Foundation (M.K.), the International Leibniz Research School for Microbial and Biomolecular Interactions (M.-G.S. and C.H.) and the Jena School for Microbial Communication (M.-G.S. and C.H.). We thank K. Roeser-Mueller, T. Engl and K. Angermeier (all at the University of Regensburg) for providing beewolf cocoons; J. Doubský (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology) for the camalexin standard; and J. Seger for valuable comments on the manuscript.

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J.K., A.S. and M.K. conceived of the study. J.K. and A.S. isolated, identified and quantified the antibiotic substances and performed the imaging mass spectrometry. J.K., A.S., M.K. and E.S. wrote the manuscript. B.S. carried out the NMR experiments. M.-G.S. and C.H. performed the biological activity experiments. R.K.M. conducted the MS-MS experiments. M.K. and E.S. carried out the GC-MS experiments.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martin Kaltenpoth or Aleš Svatoš.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kroiss, J., Kaltenpoth, M., Schneider, B. et al. Symbiotic streptomycetes provide antibiotic combination prophylaxis for wasp offspring. Nat Chem Biol 6, 261–263 (2010).

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