Rapid radiation in bacteria leads to a division of labour

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The division of labour is a central feature of the most sophisticated biological systems, including genomes, multicellular organisms and societies, which took millions of years to evolve. Here we show that a well-organized and robust division of labour can evolve in a matter of days. Mutants emerge within bacterial colonies and work with the parent strain to gain new territory. The two strains self-organize in space: one provides a wetting polymer at the colony edge, whereas the other sits behind and pushes them both along. The emergence of the interaction is repeatable, bidirectional and only requires a single mutation to alter production of the intracellular messenger, cyclic-di-GMP. Our work demonstrates the power of the division of labour to rapidly solve biological problems without the need for long-term evolution or derived sociality. We predict that the division of labour will evolve frequently in microbial populations, where rapid genetic diversification is common.




Kim, W., Levy, S. B., & Foster, K. R. (2016). Rapid radiation in bacteria leads to a division of labour. Nature Communications, 7. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms10508

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