No one likes a moldy peach, so some farmers stop fungus from growing by dipping their produce in alcohol. But that trick doesn’t work on ambrosia fungus, which fungus-eating beetles raise in “gardens” that have a ready supply of ethanol. A new study suggests the alcohol not only helps the fungus grow, but it also inhibits microbial “weeds” that would otherwise crowd it out.
Ambrosia beetles survive by boring into trees and growing fungi inside. They prefer stressed or dying trees, which have more ethanol—an alcohol that’s produced naturally by the plant—flowing through their tissues. To find out why, researchers took a closer to look at the black stem borer (pictured), an ambrosia beetle native to Asia that has become a tree-boring pest in North America.