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Division of labor in the test tube
Date:12/2/2013

l Ecology and Evolution" at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. Microbes often live in symbiosis with higher organisms, but they also cooperate with each other in order to optimally utilize the resources that are available to them. Interestingly, a look at the genome of cooperating bacterial strains shows that some of them are unable to perform all vital metabolic functions on their own. Instead, they rely on their cooperative partner. Their environment, that is to say other organisms, provides the nutrients they cannot produce themselves anymore. However, the result of the cooperation is a risky dependency: If one partner is lost, the other dies as well. Can such a dependency in fact be a trait that is selected for and which is maintained for a longer period in a bacterial population? Is this assumption compatible with Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fittest"? If so, cooperating partners should perform as good or even better than microbes without partner in terms of fitness.

Synthetic Ecology: simulating ecological parameters in a test tube

To bring a naturally evolved symbiotic community from the real world into the lab to study such cooperation, is often very difficult. Therefore, scientists used a synthetic model: Escherichia coli bacteria were genetically modified in such a way that one bacterial strain was unable to produce a certain amino acid anymore, such as tryptophan, but produced all other amino acids in high concentrations. If this strain grows in a culture with another strain unable to produce arginine, another amino acid, both strains are able to feed each other. Amazingly, such co-culture experiments showed that the growth of these bacterial cells was increased by 20% in comparison to the unmodified wild-type strain that was able to produce all essential amino acid by itself. The inability of the deficient strain to produce an essential amino acid had a positive effect on its grow
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Contact: Dr. Christian Kost
ckost@ice.mpg.de
49-364-157-1212
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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