The scientists' report, which appears in a recent issue of Current Biology, also provides further evidence that cooperation in nature is not always a festival of peace and love. Rather, cooperation may be more of a grudging necessity, in which partners continually compete and undermine one another in a bid for evolutionary dominance.
"In some social microbes, cooperation is something that happens primarily among identical or very similar cells, as a way of competing against relatively unrelated individuals in other cooperative units," said IU Bloomington biologist Gregory Velicer, who led the research. "This is unlike humans, who are more likely to cooperate with unrelated individuals as well as with close kin. In the bacteria we study, cooperation appears to be highly restricted."
Myxococcus xanthus is a predatory bacterium that swarms through soil, killing and eating other microbes by secreting toxic and digestive compounds. When food runs out, cells aggregate and exchange chemical signals to form cooperative, multi-cellular "fruiting bodies." Some of the cells create the fruiting body's structure, while other cells are destined to become hardy spores for the purpose of surviving difficult conditions.
Previously, experiments by Velicer and Ph.D. student Francesca Fiegna showed that when different Myxococcus strains isolated from around the globe were mixed together, the number of spores produced was much reduced. This indicated that this social bacterium had diverged into many socially conflicting types. Michiel Vos, then a Ph.D. student with Velicer at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, set out to find whether Myxococcus bacteria sharing the same centimeter-scale soil patch were still capable of efficiently forming fruiting bodies together, or whether these close neighbors would already engage in social conflict.
As part of the experimental design for their Current Biology study, Velicer and Vos paired Myxococcus strains isolated from soil samples taken just centimeters apart to see whether they would behave cooperatively or competitively.
The scientists found that some pairs of strains, inhabiting the same patch of soil and almost identical genetically, had nevertheless diverged enough to inhibit each other's ability to make spores.
In general, however, the scientists found competition was less intense among centimeter-scale pairings than for pairings of more distantly related bacteria isolated from distant locations. These results indicate that social divergence can evolve rapidly within populations, but this divergence can be augmented by geographic isolation.
Another set of experiments revealed that different strains actively avoid each other prior to starvation-induced fruiting body formation. Velicer and Vos argue that this type of exclusion within diverse populations -- in which the probability of social conflict among neighbors is high -- may serve to direct the benefits of cooperation to close kin only.
Velicer says he plans to conduct an exhaustive search for specific genetic differences that lead to antagonism and social exclusion in pairing of closely related strains. "We've got lots of candidate genes," he said.
A long-term goal, Velicer explains, is to understand how new species of social bacteria might evolve sympatrically, that is, in a geographical area shared with a parental species.
"If strong social incompatibilities evolve rapidly, that has implications for understanding how interacting strains diverge over long periods of time," Velicer said.
The study was funded with grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Max Planck Society, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Rubicon grant).
To speak with Velicer, please contact David Bricker, University Communicaitons, at 812-856-9035 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To speak with Vos, please e-mail email@example.com or call 011 31 26 479 12 05 (from the U.S. and Canada).
"Social Conflict in Centimeter- and Global-Scale Populations of the Bacterium Myxococcus xanthus," Current Biology, vol. 19, iss. 20
David Bricker | EurekAlert!
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy