Living Reference Work Entry

Venom Genomics and Proteomics

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Date: Latest Version

Venom Toxins of Fire Ants

  • Eduardo Gonçalves Paterson FoxAffiliated withDépartement d’Ecologie et Evolution, UNIL-Sorge Le Biophore Email author 


Fire ants are aggressive invasive insects spread around the world via ship cargo, mainly originating from the United States. They can cause severe impacts on human activities and the environment. This chapter presents an overview of what is known about fire ant venom, ending with different open possibilities for investigation in this topic. For decades, studies on fire ant venoms have been limited in scope because of the technical difficulties in obtaining enough samples for analysis and bioassays; yet now there is one simple, effective, published method for extracting venom from whole colonies. Fire ant venom is mainly composed of a mixture of >95 % bioactive piperidine alkaloids and 0.01 % of proteins, which comprise mainly allergens, phospholipases, and neurotoxins. The alkaloids of fire ants, generally named solenopsins, are well known for their antifungal and insecticidal properties; however, many have also been suggested as promising alternatives for other biomedical applications, such as the treatment of parasitemia and various neurological diseases. The venom proteins of fire ants remain only superficially studied, as most published literature focuses on just four allergens. Crucially, others may contain compounds of interest to immunotherapy or even play a central role in aspects of social organization.