Antibacterial activity of male and female sperm-storage organs in ants.

The Journal of experimental biology (2018-02-16)
Francisco Dávila, Anne Botteaux, David Bauman, Sarah Chérasse, Serge Aron

Bacteria can damage sperm and thus reduce the reproductive success of both males and females; selection should therefore favour the evolution of antimicrobial protection. Eusocial hymenopterans might be particularly affected by such bacterial infections because of their mating ecology. In both sexes, mating is restricted to a short window early in the adult stage; there are no further chances to mate later in life. Males die shortly after mating, but queens use the acquired sperm to fertilise their eggs for years, sometimes decades. The reproductive success of both sexes is, thus, ultimately sperm-limited, which maintains strong selection for high sperm viability before and after storage. We tested the antibacterial activity of the contents of the male and female sperm-storage organs - the accessory testes and the spermatheca, respectively. As our study species, we used the bacterium Escherichia coli and the garden ant Lasius niger, whose queens can live for several decades. Our results provide the first empirical evidence that male and female sperm-storage organs display different antibacterial activity. While the contents of the accessory testes actually enhanced bacterial growth, the contents of the spermatheca strongly inhibited it. Furthermore, mating appears to activate the general immune system in queens. However, antimicrobial activity in both the spermatheca and the control tissue (head-thorax homogenate) declined rapidly post-mating, consistent with a trade-off between immunity and reproduction. Overall, this study suggests that ejaculates undergo an immune 'flush' at the time of mating, allowing storage of sperm cells free of bacteria.

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LB Broth (Lennox), Highly-referenced microbial growth powder medium, low salt, suitable for salt-sensitive E.coli culture.

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