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Thursday, 08 March, 2012

Public-spirited bacteria

The mathematics of microbial cooperation

A superficial interpretation of Darwin's theory of evolution would not lead one to believe that natural selection could give rise to cooperative behavior. After all, although socially responsible behavior may benefit communities, it imposes costs on altruistic individuals. Nevertheless, "public-spirited" behavior can be found even in microbial populations. Many bacterial species display cooperative behavior in that some cells synthesize substances that are beneficial to the colony as a whole, although the resulting energy cost causes them to grow more slowly than their free-riding neighbors. LMU physicist Professor Erwin Frey and his colleagues Dr. Jonas Cremer and Dr. Anna Melbinger have now used mathematical models to elucidate the mechanisms that facilitate the evolution of cooperation. "Cooperation here can be explained by the fact that bacterial colonies grow rapidly and constantly generate new colonies," says Frey. "We have now shown, for the first time, that a single cell can establish a whole population of cooperating bacteria." (Scientific Reports online, 21. Februar 2012)

Press information LMU (English)
Presseinformation der LMU (deutsch)

Publication "Growth dynamics and the evolution of cooperation in microbial populations"