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Termites-Fungi Interaction in Tropical Africa

Associate Professor Michael Poulsen; University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Prof. Michael Poulsen

About Associate Professor Michael Poulsen:

Michael Poulsen is an Associate Professor at the Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen. He is interested in the evolutionary origin and stability of symbioses, including conflict and cooperation within beneficial symbiotic associations. His work focuses on host-symbiont interactions, and the coevolutionary history of fungus-growing insect-microbe associations, primarily in African fungus-growing termites. He did his PhD at the Department of Population Biology (Copenhagen University) from 2002-2005. He subsequently spent time in the USA where he was postdoc at the Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison until returning to the University of Copenhagen in 2010, where he leads the Social and Symbiotic Evolution Group (https://www.socialsymbioticevolution.com/). Michael has published more than 70 peer-reviewed publications that have been cited 2863 citations and with h=30 (Google Scholar).

Topic of the plenary talk: Thirty million years of co-evolutionary interactions in an African termite-fungus-bacteria symbiosis

Abstract of the talk: Farming of fungi in the genus Termitomyces originated approximately thirty million years ago in a sub-family of higher termites (the Macrotermitinae) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, the association has evolved and diversified to inhabit most of sub-Saharan Africa and large parts of Southeast Asia, becoming the dominant decomposer of plant biomass and playing important roles in nutrient turnover in arid and semi-arid environments. This success has been accomplished through intricate symbiotic association with the plant-biomass degrading Termitomyces fungi and complex gut bacterial communities that complement each other metabolically. This symbiotic association is incredibly efficient in utilizing plant substrates harvested by the termites and appears to avoid contracting diseases; two focal areas of work in my group. Here, I will review our current understanding of how this complex symbiosis accomplishes near-complete degradation of plant material and how the association remarkably manages to avoid specialized diseases of their monoculture fungus crop.

Key words : Macrotermitinae, plant-biomass degradation, microbiomes, Termitomyces, co-evolution, metabolomics, metagenomics