Master project (m/f/d) | Function of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in fungus-farming ambrosia beetles

Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena

Type of Job

Young Researchers

Developmental and Evolutionary Biology & Genetics Microbiology & Ecology Plant Research

Job offer from February 21, 2023

We are currently looking for a motivated student for a M.Sc. project at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena. The student will provide novel insights into the role and importance of possibly nitrogen-fixing bacteria in native fungus-farming bark- and ambrosia beetles.

Project description

In general, ambrosia beetles are fungus-farming bark beetles (Curculionidae), which are encompassing around 16 species in Germany and more than 3400 worldwide. They typically colonize the xylem of recently dead trees in which they drill their tunnel systems. This substrate is extremely challenging for the beetles as it mainly consists out of cellulose and hemicellulose, both hardly digestible for beetles. Further, one of the most important elements in life, nitrogen, is almost absent within the xylem of trees. Here, the beetles benefit from associated mutualistic fungi, which provide a nutritional source of food for the beetles, and are thus supporting them to fulfil their carbon requirements. To date, it remains unknown how the beetles gather sufficient amounts of nitrogen. However, only about 5% of the fungal symbionts of known ambrosia beetle species have been described. Even less studied is the identity and role of other fungi, yeasts and especially bacteria that are frequently found to co-inhabit the ambrosia beetle galleries.   

Within a recent project, we isolated and identified possibly nitrogen-fixing bacteria from the tunnel systems of two common and widespread ambrosia beetles (X. saxesenii & X. germanus). With these findings several questions regarding their function in the beetle-fungus symbiosis are searching for answers.

Research goal

The aim of this project is to study the role and the influence of such bacteria within the beetle-fungus symbiosis focussing on:

  • Fieldwork
  • Isolation and identification of bacteria and fungi from natural and artificial breeding systems and beetles
  • Behavioural assays with beetles and bacteria/fungi
  • Bioassays with antagonistic/competitive fungi
  • Nutritional analyses of involved microbes focussing on isolated bacteria
  • Isotope (15N2) measurements

Position and application

The student will first be employed as a HiWi-student for around 2 months (10 hours/week) in aim to get to know each other and to introduce him/her to this exciting project.
If you are generally interested in microbiology, mycology and ecology, and want to find out more about this project (e.g. details, start date), don´t hesitate to get in contact with us.

Dr. Maximilian Lehenberger

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