In my research I use insect-microbial symbiotic systems to test general theories of mutualistic evolution. A remarkable example of mutualistic cooperation is insect agriculture, where insects cultivate fungi inside their nests that are provisioned with plant material and later consumed as food. The microorganisms associated with insects in mutualistic interactions are very diverse. Some of the associated microorganisms are generalists, whereas others are extremely adapted to this lifestyle. It is therefore possible to find remarkable examples of mutualistic interactions that vary in complexity and degree of coevolution among insect associated microorganisms, making them ideally suited to study social evolution and evolutionary adaptation.
I have previously studied symbiont transmission, interaction specificity and evolutionary stability of mutualistic symbioses using the African fungus-growing termites as a model system. At the moment, I am studying symbiotic fungal adaptation in the fungus-growing ant symbiosis, to better understand patterns of mutualistic evolution under different selection regimes. In my work I use a combination of experimental manipulations, microscopic visualization techniques, and next-generation high-throughput sequencing in combination with bioinformatic and laboratory genetic analyses to study physiological and morphological adaptations associated with the evolution of mutualisms.
De Fine Licht, Henrik H, Schiott, Morten, Mueller, Ulrich and Boomsma, Jacobus J. (2010) Evolutionary transitions in enzyme activity of ant fungus gardens, Evolution 64, 2055-2069.
Aanen, Duur K., De Fine Licht, Henrik H., Debets, Alfons J. M., Kerstes, Niels, Hoekstra, Rolf F. and Boomsma, Jacobus J. (2009) High symbiont relatedness stabilizes mutualistic cooperation in fungus-growing termites, Science, 326, 1103-1106.
De Fine Licht, Henrik H., Boomsma, Jacobus J. and Aanen, Duur K. (2006) Presumptive horizontal symbiont transmission in the fungus-growing termite Macrotermes natalensis, Molecular Ecology, 15, 3131-3138.
Henrik Hjarvard de Fine Licht
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