The longhorned beetle is able to digest hard wood even during the larval stage due to a particular type of a little known fungus located in its gut. Researchers believe that this discovery could lead to more effective ways of controlling the insect pest as well as adding to our understanding of how plant bio-mass is broken down to create bio-fuels.
Scientists are already aware that an insect gut can break down cellulose from a plant, but little is known about whether it’s possible for the lignin of a plant to be digested by an insect as well. The lignin is the part of the plant that allows it to stand upright and protects plants from most forms of microbial attack. Lignin also serves as a barrier that blocks insects from retaining the sugars inside the plant. Scientists have traditionally assumed that insects feed on the sugars in a plant after the lignin degrades from enzymes produced by mushrooms located near the plants. The longhorned beetle is the first insect discovered that uses the enzymes of fungus located within its digestive system to break down lignin.
Do you think that insects with fungus growing within their gut are more common than scientists are aware?