Meat-eating vulture bees have evolved special gut bacteria to feast on flesh

Butterflies and beetles share two bug species that actively help the animals digest food Meat-eating vulture bees have evolved special gut bacteria to feast on flesh Scientists have found an ancient link between a…

Meat-eating vulture bees have evolved special gut bacteria to feast on flesh

Butterflies and beetles share two bug species that actively help the animals digest food

Meat-eating vulture bees have evolved special gut bacteria to feast on flesh

Scientists have found an ancient link between a group of insects and the star of Keeping Up Appearances, which thrives on the gristle of meat.

Humans and chickens are related through apes but do not go back far enough in time to trace the ancient chains of descent to the famous critter who ate large amounts of cod liver oil.

Scientists at London’s Natural History Museum have now found that a group of insects – the parasitoid and the predator – share a species of gut bacteria that helps them digest food.

The glycoproteins contained in the bacteria, which include billions of different versions, are found in about 90% of the insects examined by the researchers.

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In a breakthrough for scientists, the new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests it is only the small number of bugs that help a species digest food that can give rise to the condition known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa – better known as the blood, bone and cancer bug.

Numerous examples of the species have been found in the stomachs of birds such as vultures, which eat excrement, mice and dogs.

The pesticides used in fox hunting and fox control could have played a role in them evolving a different gut flora, the scientists say.

“Mice and dogs are among the most commonly eaten animals by vultures,” said Prof Ian Warren of the zoology department at the museum. “Clearly these animals have had a taste for the food of scavengers.”

The scientists are investigating whether farmers could use the bacteria as a means of reducing the risk of the bug damaging crops.

Postdoctoral researcher Colin Whitehead said: “The carbobacterium that acts as a glue for all the other bacteria in the gut plays a vital role in controlling food digestion.

“So by using this bacterial glue, farmers might be able to improve the digestion of crops that vultures are currently by trapping predators around the edge of fields or using traps to catch scavengers.”

Dr Anna Stober, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who took part in the research, said that looking at the evolution of parasites through the evolution of parasites “requires examining many taxa and many lines of evolution”.

“With this work we are also showing how specific species and lineages converge in scientific community and further emphasise the importance of evolution,” she said.

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