Prochlorococcus had once performed this function itself, but natural selection decided it was too costly, like carrying the Queen of Spades, and discarded this ability. Instead Prochlorococcus benefits from the hard work of others within its community allowing it to concentrate its energies elsewheresuch as multiplying.
The hypothesis offers a new way of looking at complicated, interdependent communities of microorganisms.
"We know that certain microbial activities, such as hydrogen peroxide scavenging, are 'leaky,' meaning their impacts extend beyond the cell and into the environment," Zinser said. "What the hypothesis suggests is that this leakiness can drive a community toward greater interdependence, even if some members are unwitting participants in this process."
This interdependence could lend itself to vulnerabilities. The scientists say the work highlights the importance of biological diversity, because if rare members are lost, "the consequences for the community could be disastrous." This would be analogous to attempting to play Hearts without the Queen of Spades.
Currently, the hypothesis is limited to microorganisms, but Zinser thinks the hypothesis could be extended to larger free-living organisms. All that is needed is a card which no player wants yet is crucial for the game to be played.
|Contact: Whitney Heins|
University of Tennessee at Knoxville