Termite – Guts

Music

You’ve just been born. And now your mom is offering to feed you the contents of her gut from her rear end. Now, if you’re a termite, this is a very good thing. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Within the gut of a termite is a busy world of microbes: bacteria and other one-celled organisms that are essential to this insect’s ability to digest its food.

“When termites emerge from the egg, their gut is not colonized by these microbes. They have to be fed these microbes from other members of their termite colony. Termites are social insects, and one of the underlying reasons for their being social is to maintain this microbial community amongst themselves.”

Dr. Jared Leadbetter is an assistant professor of Environmental Microbiology at the California Institute of Technology.

“When you look at the termite’s having been on earth for over a hundred million years, it’s really remarkable to think that that success has depended on this successful passage of this community of microbes, which you find nowhere else on earth. So, it’s been a remarkable story of an insect and a complex assemblage of many, many different species and that they’re both completely dependent on each other.”

Now, termites aren’t the only animals that rely upon gut microbes for their digestion and health. The long list includes cows, sheep, deerand human beings.

”We also have a rich microbiota in our hindgut, which we call our colon. These also comprise several hundred different species and are also, in many ways, indispensable to our good health. And so in that way, studying the termite may actually tell us a lot about ourselves.”

There’s more to learn from termites than just about their digestion. It turns out the energy industry is very interested in them as well. We’ll find out why in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.

Termite - Guts

Termites keep the microbes in the family with a little rear-to-mouth-feeding.
Air Date:03/16/2006
Scientist:
Transcript:

Music

You’ve just been born. And now your mom is offering to feed you the contents of her gut from her rear end. Now, if you’re a termite, this is a very good thing. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Within the gut of a termite is a busy world of microbes: bacteria and other one-celled organisms that are essential to this insect’s ability to digest its food.

“When termites emerge from the egg, their gut is not colonized by these microbes. They have to be fed these microbes from other members of their termite colony. Termites are social insects, and one of the underlying reasons for their being social is to maintain this microbial community amongst themselves.”

Dr. Jared Leadbetter is an assistant professor of Environmental Microbiology at the California Institute of Technology.

“When you look at the termite’s having been on earth for over a hundred million years, it’s really remarkable to think that that success has depended on this successful passage of this community of microbes, which you find nowhere else on earth. So, it’s been a remarkable story of an insect and a complex assemblage of many, many different species and that they’re both completely dependent on each other.”

Now, termites aren’t the only animals that rely upon gut microbes for their digestion and health. The long list includes cows, sheep, deerand human beings.

”We also have a rich microbiota in our hindgut, which we call our colon. These also comprise several hundred different species and are also, in many ways, indispensable to our good health. And so in that way, studying the termite may actually tell us a lot about ourselves.”

There’s more to learn from termites than just about their digestion. It turns out the energy industry is very interested in them as well. We’ll find out why in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.