No one likes a cheater, even a single-celled one.
New research from Rice University shows how cooperative single-celled amoebae rely on family ties to keep cheaters from undermining the health of their colonies. The research appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May.
"It's very unusual to get a complete story in biology -- one that marries careful field work with painstaking work in the laboratory -- and that's what we have here," said research co-author Joan Strassmann, chair of Rice's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Rice's research involved the common soil microbe Dictyostelium discoideum. These amoebae can be loners in times of plenty, but when food is scarce they work together, forming colonies to ensure their survival. About one fifth of the individuals in a colony form a tall, thin stalk. The rest climb the stalk and clump together into a bulbous fruiting body that can be carried away to better environs by the wind or on the legs of passing insects.
This simple social system poses an evolutionary conundrum for biologists; the members of the stalk give themselves up altruistically to support the colony, so what's to keep more selfish strains of D. discoideum from cheating the system, avoiding the stalk and out-reproducing their altruistic neighbors"
Strassmann and Rice evolutionary biologist David Queller have previously investigated how Dictyostelium colonies control cheating. For example, a study on D. discoideum showed that one gene governing cooperative behavior was also tied to reproduction. In another study, mutants that were genetically predisposed to avoid altruistic service in the stalk were also excluded from reproducing. A third study demonstrated that Dictyostelium purpureum preferentially associated with its own kin -- another mechanism that ensures altruism isn't taken advantage of by cheaters.
The current study combined graduate student Owen Gilbert's careful field and lab work on natural D. discoideum clones with exacting studies of genetically engineered mutant strains conducted by former postdoctoral researcher Kevin Foster and postdoctoral researcher Natasha Mehdiabadi.
"This work required investigators skilled in both field biology and molecular biology, an all-too-rare combination," Strassmann said.
Gilbert collected 144 D. discoideum fruiting bodies -- some of which were the first ever reported in the wild -- from 2003 to 2005 at the University of Virginia's Mountain Lake Biological Station in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. Back in the lab, Gilbert broke open the fruiting bodies and deciphered the genetic makeup of more than 3,000 individual spores. Though he found genetic differences between fruiting bodies, the spores within particular fruiting bodies were highly related.
Foster and Mehdiabadi worked with a mutant form of D. discoideum called "cheater A" that was missing a single gene known to play roles in both group productivity and reproduction. On their own, cheater A mutants produced few or no spores, but in mixed colonies they could thrive by cheating and avoiding service in the stalk. Foster and Mehdiabadi found cheater A spread readily within low-related colonies, and exacted a high toll by reducing the colonies' ability to reproduce. In colonies with highly related cells, the cheater's individual advantages were outweighed by the overall health of the group, so the cheaters couldn't gain a foothold.
"The combination of these two studies confirms something that's been long predicted by kin selection theory -- a mutant that cheats when relatedness is low cannot and has not spread in the wild because of natural relatedness," Queller said.
Gilbert said, "Our results answer the big question of why altruism persists. It persists because high relatedness prevents the spread of socially destructive mutants."
Jade Boyd | EurekAlert!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
17.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.05.2017 | Life Sciences
23.05.2017 | Medical Engineering