News Release

An easy relationship between a beetle and its yeast symbiont

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Nagoya University

Lizard beetles

image: Lizard beetles plant a fungal garden inside dead bamboo stems to feed developing larvae. view more 

Credit: Wataru Toki

Japanese lizard beetle larvae feed on yeast injected from their mothers’ abdomens into the bamboo stems they are growing in. Now, scientists at Nagoya University have made a surprising discovery: the yeast can digest some complex sugars in the bamboo woody tissue, but it doesn’t. Instead, it consumes much simpler and more available sugar sources.


“This was a real surprise,” says Nagoya University bioagricultural researcher Wataru Toki. “While yeast can indeed decompose those indigestible components, our analysis shows the yeast actually grows on small molecule monosaccharides.” The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Female Japanese lizard beetles carry the yeast Wickerhamomyces anomalus in a specialised pocket-like organ. In spring, they dig holes in bamboo and insert their eggs and the yeast. W. anomalus grows into a sort of fungal garden that the very hungry beetle larvae munch on as soon as they hatch.

In other symbiotic relationships, fungi typically break down complex sugars into more digestible chunks that their host insects can feed on. Toki and his colleague, Dan Aoki, wanted to know whether this was also the case in the relationship between the Japanese lizard beetle and W. anomalus.


Their research suggests not. The scientists used a technique called ion exchange chromatography to analyse and compare the sugar content of fresh bamboo pith, and pith colonized by yeast alone or by yeast and beetle larvae. The comparison revealed that the yeast mostly ate the simple free sugars glucose and fructose.


This surprised the scientists because further tests showed that the yeast can actually digest some complex, indigestible sugars if necessary.


“Bamboo is not only a farm for the yeast but also a house for the larvae. So the larvae can live in a strong house safely because the house is not decomposed by the food,” explains Toki.


The researchers now want to further investigate the relationship. Perhaps, they suggest, the beetle larvae grow larger inside unusually sweet bamboo, giving them a competitive advantage. The scientists also want to know how adult females distinguish free-sugar-rich bamboo to lay their eggs.


The study, "Nutritional resources of the yeast symbiont cultivated by the lizard beetle Doubledaya bucculenta in bamboos," was published online in the journal Scientific Reports on September 28, 2021, at DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-98733-y


Wataru Toki and Dan Aoki at the Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, Nagoya University



Wataru Toki

Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, Nagoya University




Funding Information:

This study was partly supported by the Institute for Fermentation, Osaka (G-2018-1-034) and a KAKENHI Grant (20KK0349) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).



About Nagoya University, Japan

Nagoya University has a history of about 150 years, with its roots in a temporary medical school and hospital established in 1871, and was formally instituted as the last Imperial University of Japan in 1939. Although modest in size compared to the largest universities in Japan, Nagoya University has been pursuing excellence since its founding. Six of the 18 Japanese Nobel Prize-winners since 2000 did all or part of their Nobel Prize-winning work at Nagoya University: four in Physics - Toshihide Maskawa and Makoto Kobayashi in 2008, and Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano in 2014; and two in Chemistry - Ryoji Noyori in 2001 and Osamu Shimomura in 2008. In mathematics, Shigefumi Mori did his Fields Medal-winning work at the University. A number of other important discoveries have also been made at the University, including the Okazaki DNA Fragments by Reiji and Tsuneko Okazaki in the 1960s; and depletion forces by Sho Asakura and Fumio Oosawa in 1954.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.