This one may hypnotize you if you let it. Explore a swirling blue world devoid of oxygen to meet the single-celled organisms who digest cellulose for termites, inside their gut. Without their help, termites can't make use of the wood they infamously chomp.
Produced in collaboration with CalTech Professor of Environmental Microbiology, Jared Leadbetter. Wonder Science was honored with a Nikon Small World in Motion Award for this video microscopy.
Everybody knows that termites eat wood. They chew it into little pieces small enough to swallow. But did you know that several hundred different species of microbe work together to digest the tough cellulose into various chemical substances that nourish themselves and their insect host? You'll be able to see the wood pieces inside their transparent bodies.
This interrelationship is a wonderful example of endosymbiosis: a powerful force shaping the evolution of species. The prefix "Endo" means in, and "symbiosis" means mutually beneficial. Yes! You will witness a symbiotic relationship in which one species lives inside the other! More specifically, the relationship between the microbes and their termite host is one of obligate endosymbiosis. "Obligate" means necessary. Neither population could survive without the other's help.
The microbes are "endemic" to their host -- meaning they are native to the termite gut and do not exist any place else on earth. They would die if exposed to oxygen, and the termite's anaerobic gut is oxygen-free. In addition to shelter, it is where they find food.
On the other side of the equation, the termite host would starve without the hundreds of microscopic species residing in its innards. The obligate endosymbionts have been co-evolving together for over a hundred million years. Each baby termite is fed the gut microbes when it's born, so that it too can derive nutrients from its diet.
BTW, we are big termite fans because without their recycling, the surface of the earth would be buried under miles of rotten plant material. Besides, only 10% of known termite species, roughly 300 of 3000, damage human habitation. It seems like more than a fair trade overall.
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