In 1859 an Australian farmer named Thomas Austin released 24 grey rabbits from Europe into the wild because it "could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting."
One of the most damaging invasive species in history, kudzu, or Japanese arrowroot, found its way from Japan to the southeastern United States, where it is overtaking much of the landscape. An ecological concept known as the Allee effect governs the spread of invasive species and pathogens, according to a Duke University team that has tested the concept in engineered bacteria.
Credit: Wikipedia Commons
By the end of the century, the rabbits had begun to overrun native ecosystems, reaching nationwide numbers of 600 million by 1950. They were propagating under a principle known as the Allee effect - the observation that larger groups of animals do better at establishing populations in a new environment. Had Austin instead spread the rabbits into many smaller groups across the landscape, things might have turned out differently.
With the help of E. coli and some clever synthetic biology techniques, engineers at Duke University have now tested the limits of the Allee effect. The results have implications for both ecologists dealing with invasive species and medical practitioners fighting infections.
Organisms exhibiting a very strong Allee effect need a certain number of individuals to survive, below which the group will collapse. And while intuition suggests that the more places a species spreads, the more it will thrive, scattering a population too thin by forming too many new colonies could result in the ruin of them all.
The paper appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Jan. 20."From the perspective of an invasive species, it appears to be a good idea to spread out to many different habitats simultaneously," said Lingchong You, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke. "If they all survive, the overall growth is much more efficient. But there's a catch because of the Allee effect; there is also a greater chance each population will fall below the critical threshold and every location will fail."
into, you might inadvertently help them thrive."
In the experiment, researchers engineered E. coli to produce a toxin that, left to its own devices, would soon wipe out the entire colony of bacteria. But they also put in a genetic switch that could turn their fortunes around; if enough bacteria were present and the chemicals they use to signal one another reached a certain concentration, they would begin producing an antidote to the toxin. In this way, the bacteria were engineered to have a high Allee effect.
The researchers then tested how well the bacteria did with different dispersal rates. They plucked the bacteria from their original source wells and colonized new ones. Each trial consisted of a different number of target habitats, which affected the density of the new populations.
Just as theory predicted, the greatest success came when the dispersion rate stayed in a happy middle ground. Too few new colonies and the bacteria barely spread; too many and each floundered, including the original source.
The results also have important medical implications, according to You.
"People need to use caution when using antibiotics," said You. "Our bodies' natural microbes are in some ways the first line of defense against invaders, which can often stop an infection from gaining a foothold. But if we recklessly apply antibiotics, we may destroy these defenses and make it easier for just a few foreign bacteria to spread and grow. We may remove their Allee effect."
Their work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation grant CBET-0953202 and the National Institutes of Health grant 1R01GM098642.
CITATION: "Programmed Allee effect in bacteria causes a tradeoff between population spread and survival," Smith, R.P., Tan, C., Srimani, J.K., Pai, A., Riccione, K.A., Song, H., You, L. PNAS, Jan. 20, 2014. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1315954111
Ken Kingery | EurekAlert!
Sea turtles face plastic pollution peril
09.10.2015 | University of Exeter
NOAA declares third ever global coral bleaching event
08.10.2015 | NOAA Headquarters
Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.
To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...
The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.
As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...
Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.
Inspired by insects
An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...
At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...
01.10.2015 | Event News
30.09.2015 | Event News
17.09.2015 | Event News
09.10.2015 | Earth Sciences
09.10.2015 | Life Sciences
09.10.2015 | Life Sciences