Activity for Termites Digest Wood Thanks to Microbes
This activity explores the content presented in the animated film Termites Digest Wood Thanks to Microbes, which describes the symbiotic relationship between termites and the wood-digesting protists in their gut.
In this episode of the series I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong explores the secrets behind termites’ power to digest an abundant source of food: wood. The key to this ability is the microbes in their gut. Yong and Princeton scientist Xinning Zhang discuss how termites evolved into wood-eating specialists about 150 million years ago, and how they use a unique social behavior to transfer the microbes from one generation to the next.
The “Student Handout” probes students’ understanding of the key concepts addressed in the film. The “Educator Materials” document provides suggested pause points in the film with questions for students, background information, and detailed discussion points; a list of related resources and references; and an answer key for the “Student Handout.”
Student Learning Targets
Describe the symbiotic relationship between termites and the microbes in their gut.
Use evidence to draw distinctions between scientific facts and inferences.
digestion, mutualism, protist, symbiosis
Breznak, John A., and Andreas Brune. “Role of microorganisms in the digestion of lignocellulose by termites.” Annual Review of Entomology 39, 1 (1994): 453–487. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.en.39.010194.002321.
Warnecke, Falk, Peter Luginbühl, Natalia Ivanova, Majid Ghassemian, Toby H. Richardson, Justin T. Stege, Michelle Cayouette, et al. “Metagenomic and functional analysis of hindgut microbiota of a wood-feeding higher termite.” Nature 450, 7169 (2007): 560–565. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06269.
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HS-LS1-6, HS-LS2-3; SEP6
SYI-1.H, ENE-3.D, ENE-4.B, ENE-4.C, EVO-1.B; SP1
Learning Objectives & Practices: ERT-1.A, SP1, SP3