Scientists Discover New Species of Fungus in a Wasp Nest

Posted on November 9, 2011

Paper Wasp Nest from Tufts UniversityA team of Tufts researchers found a new species of fungus inside a paper wasp nest. The wasp nest was located near the dumpsters at Tufts University. Philip T. Starks, associate professor of biology at the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, and doctoral student Anne A. Madden published their discovery in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology (IJSEM).

Madden says, "Nests of the invasive species of paper wasps had never been investigated for their microbial community. This is despite the wasp's cosmopolitan distribution and their frequent use as a model system in the field of animal behavior. Because researchers know so much about this host wasp, we thought it would be particularly valuable to characterize the microbes of the nest."

The scientists took samples from active nests and placed them in a nutrient-based medium as one would plant a garden with a handful of unknown seeds to see what grows. The researchers grew a number of different fungi and used genetic sequencing techniques to tease apart species identities. They found that one fungus had a unique gene sequence that suggested it had not previously been characterized. Madden says the fluffy, white and fast-growing fungus resembled bunny fur. The scientists named the new species of fungus: Mucor nidicola. They chose the species name nidicola, because the word translates from Latin to "living in another's nest."

Starks says, "It's shocking, but also quite exciting, that we know more about what microbes live under the sea than we do about those that associate with the insects that actually live in our houses."

Photo: Anne A. Madden