Currie Lab

Current Lab Members

Picture of

Lily Khadempour


Area of Study

The microbial mediation of herbivory in leaf-cutter ant fungus gardens

Research Description

Lily grew up in Canada and received her BSc at the University of British Columbia in Ecology and Environmental Biology. After trying her hand at working as a lab tech, she decided to return to school and obtained her MSc at UBC in the Faculty of Forestry in the lab of Colette Breuil. She joined the Currie Lab in 2011 to pursue her PhD. She defended her PhD in 2018 and will be continuing in the Currie Lab as a postdoc until the end of the summer. Besides studying science, Lily enjoys partaking in activities that often end up in bruises, such as playing rugby and rock climbing.

Research Interests
Leaf-cutter ants are dominant herbivores in Central and South America. They cut leaves from their environment, carry them back to their colony, and then grow a fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorus on them. They consume this fungal cultivar as their main energy source. This fungus has been shown to be the primary degrader of plant biomass in the leaf-cutter ant system.

Lily’s research centers on the relationship between the fungus, a community of bacteria in the fungus garden, and the type of substrates the ants incorporate into their gardens. Through metaproteomics of the fungus garden, she has been able to show that the fungus responds with specific plant biomass-degrading enzymes to whatever substrate the ants incorporate. This flexible substrate-specific response of the fungus is necessary for the ants to be the generalists that they are, and may contribute to the dominance of these ants as herbivores.

Another substrate-driven research topic is in a monophyletic group of leaf-cutter ants that cut grass. Lily aims to uncover mechanism of the evolutionary transition to grass-cutting in the fungus and bacteria in the fungus gardens. This work is being conducted using genomic and metagenomic sequencing.


  1. Paludo, C., Menezes, C., Silva-Junior, E., Vollet-Neto, A., Andrade-Dominguez, A., Pishchany, G., Khadempour, L., Nascimento, F., Currie, C., Kolter, R., Clardy, J., and Pupo, M. (2018) Stingless Bee Larvae Require Fungal Steroid to Pupate. Scientific Reports (in press).
  2. Khadempour, L., Burnum-Johnson, K., Baker, E., Nicora, C., Webb-Robertson, B-J., White III, R., Monroe, M., Huang, E., Smith, R., Currie, C. (2016) The fungal cultivar of leaf-cutter ants produces specific enzymes in response to different plant substrates. Molecular Ecology 22: 5795-5805.
  3. Aylward, F.O., Khadempour, L., Tremmel, D.M., McDonald B.R., Nicora C.D., Wu, S., Moore, R.J., Orton, D.J., Monroe, M.E., Piehowski, P.D., Purvine, S.O., Smith, R.D., Lipton, M.S., Burnum-Johnson, K.E. and Currie, C.R. (2015) Enrichment and Broad Representation of Plant Biomass-degrading Enzymes in the Specialized Hyphal Swellings of Leucoagaricus gongylophorus, the Fungal Symbiont of Leaf-Cutter Ants. PLoS ONE10(8), e0134752
  4. Khadempour, L., LeMay, V., Jack, D., Bohlmann, J. and Breuil, C. (2012) The relative abundance of mountain pine beetle fungal associates through the beetle life cycle in pine trees. Microbial Ecology64: 909-917.
  5. Khadempour, L., Massoumi Alamouti, S., Hamelin, R., Bohlmann, J. and Breuil, C. (2010) Target-specific PCR primers can detect and differentiate ophiostomatoid fungi from microbial communities associated with the mountain pine beetle Dendroctonus ponderosaeFungal Biology. 114: 825-33.
  6. Tsui, C.K.M., Wang, B., Khadempour, L., Massoumi Alamouti, S., Bohlmann, J, Murray, B.W. and Hamelin R.C. (2010) Rapid identification and detection of pine pathogenic fungi associated with mountain pine beetles by padlock probes. Journal of Microbiological Methods. 83: 26-33.
  7. Tsui, C.K.M., Feau, N., Ritland, C.E., Massoumi Alamouti, S., Diguistini, S., Khadempour, L., Bohlmann, J., Breuil, C. and Hamelin, R.C. (2009) Characterization of microsatellite loci in the fungus, Grosmanniaclavigera, a pine pathogen associated with the mountain pine beetle. Molecular Ecology Resources. 9: 1500–1503.
  8. Khadempour, L., Lim Y.W., Massoumi Alamouti, S. and Breuil, C. DNA-based tools for monitoring ophiostomatoid fungi. Proceeding for The 41st Annual Meeting of the International Research Group on Wood Protection, May 9-14, 2010, Biarritz, France.
  9. Uzunovic, A. and Khadempour, L.(2007) Heat disinfestations of mountain pine beetle-affected wood. Mountain pine beetle initiative working paper 2007-14. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Centre, 506 West Burnside Road, Victoria, BC.


© 2015, All Rights Reserved.
Currie Labotatory

6145 Microbial Science Building
1550 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
(view map)

Contact Info
Lab phone: (608) 890-0237
Fax: (608) 262-9865