Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microbes Buy Low and Sell High

14.01.2014
Microbes set up their own markets, comparing bids for commodities, hoarding to obtain a better price, and generally behaving in ways more commonly associated with Wall Street than the microscopic world.

The idea that people make calculated decisions that allow them to obtain the most goods with the smallest amount of effort — a complex hypothesis called ‘economic man’ for short — often has been challenged. People sometimes make irrational decisions, they rarely possess sufficient information to make the best decision, and they sometimes act against their own economic self-interest, critics say.



But none of these critiques is as radical as the one advanced in the Jan. 13 online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Written by an international team of researchers, it was inspired by a workshop on biological markets (transactions in which partners, typically animals, exchange commodities for their mutual benefit) held at the Lorentz Center of the University of Leiden in The Netherlands in January. (Click here for agenda.)

The scientists asked themselves how far biological market theory, which has been used successfully to explain cooperative behavior in many species, could be extended. Could it be used to describe, for example, the exchange of commodities between organisms without any cognitive ability, such as microbes.

They could think of instances where single-celled organisms had been shown to avoid bad trading partners, build local business ties, diversify or specialize in a particular commodity, save for a rainy day, eliminate the competition and otherwise behave in ways that seem to follow market-based principles.

They concluded not only that microbes are economic actors, but also that microbial markets can be useful systems for testing questions about biological markets in general, such as the evolution of partner choice, responses to price fluctuations and the identification of market conditions that drive diversification or specialization.

They even foresee practical applications of the work. It might be possible, for example, to manipulate ‘market conditions’ in crop fields to drive nitrogen-fixing bacteria to trade more their commodity (a biologically available form of nitrogen) with crop plants.

“Creative insights are often easier when theories from one field are explored in a different system as we do here, applying economic concepts to microbial interactions,” said Joan Strassmann, PhD, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the workshop and helped write the PNAS paper.

“The microscopic nature of microbial systems means it is easy to misunderstand their interactions; an economic framework helps us focus on what is important,” said David Queller, PhD, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology, another of the brainstorming scientists.

Microbial business practices
The idea of biological markets is not new. Biological market theory was first formulated in 1994, by two of the workshop participants, Ronald Noë, PhD, of Université de Strasbourg in France and Peter Hammerstein, PhD, of Institute for Theoretical Biology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in Germany

Scientists have long been aware that trades among a wide range of organisms are not blind exchanges but instead ones shaped by ‘market conditions’ such as price, quality and competition.

For example, cleaner fish, small fish that pick dead cells and mucus off of larger fish, provide a higher-quality cleaning service when competing cleaner fish are around.

What is new is the suggestion that single-celled organisms might participate in markets as well. Gijsbert Werner, a doctoral candidate at Vrijie Universiteit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and the first author of the PNAS paper, said that the requirements for the emergence of market behavior are fairly minimal.

“For biological markets to evolve, you actually only need that individuals can detect co-operators and respond by rewarding them with more resources,” Werner said. “This can work through automatic responses. Organisms without cognition, like microbes, are also capable of automatic economic responses.”

Impressively complex behavior can emerge from those automatic responses. Toby Kiers, PhD, professor of evolutonary interactions at Vrijie Universieit and the senior author on the paper, studies complex underground networks between plant roots and fungi associated with those roots, called mycorrhizal fungi. The plants supply the fungi with sugar in exchange for mineral nutrients such as phosphorus.

Kiers and her colleagues found that the fungi compare the resources on offer by different plants, and adjust their resource allocations accordingly.

Some fungi even hoard resources until they get a better deal. “We now see that such ‘playing of the market’ happens in microbes. Microbial traders can be ruthless, even using chemicals to actively elbow competitors out of the marketplace,” Kiers said.

The scientists expect that studying microbial exchange systems as miniature markets will give them insight into the many collaborative behaviors of microbes, helping to generate new hypotheses and approaches in the field of social microbiology.

And by comparing microbial markets and animal markets they will then be able to determine “which, if any, market features are specific to cognitive agents,” the scientists write.

So much for the egos of Wall Street traders.

Diana Lutz | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.wustl.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision
23.09.2016 | Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland)

nachricht Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target
23.09.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

Im Focus: Launch of New Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing

At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.

In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...

Im Focus: New laser joining technologies at ‘K 2016’ trade fair

Every three years, the plastics industry gathers at K, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber in Düsseldorf. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will also be attending again and presenting many innovative technologies, such as for joining plastics and metals using ultrashort pulse lasers. From October 19 to 26, you can find the Fraunhofer ILT at the joint Fraunhofer booth SC01 in Hall 7.

K is the world’s largest trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. As in previous years, the organizers are expecting 3,000 exhibitors and more than...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Experts from industry and academia discuss the future mobile telecommunications standard 5G

23.09.2016 | Event News

ICPE in Graz for the seventh time

20.09.2016 | Event News

Using mathematical models to understand our brain

16.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

New leukemia treatment offers hope

23.09.2016 | Health and Medicine

Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>