They even foresee practical applications of the work. It might be possible, for example, to manipulate market conditions in crop fields to drive nitrogen-fixing bacteria to trade more of their commodity (a biologically available form of nitrogen) with crop plants.
Creative insights are often easier when theories from one field are explored in a different system as we do here, applying economic concepts to microbial interactions, said Joan Strassmann, PhD, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the workshop and helped write the PNAS paper.
The microscopic nature of microbial systems means it is easy to misunderstand their interactions; an economic framework helps us focus on what is important, said David Queller, PhD, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology, another of the brainstorming scientists.
Microbial business practices
The idea of biological markets is not new. Biological market theory was first formulated in 1994, by two of the workshop participants, Ronald No, PhD, of Universit de Strasbourg in France and Peter Hammerstein, PhD, of the Institute for Theoretical Biology, Homboldt-Universitt zu Berlin, in Germany.
Scientists have long been aware that trades among a wide range of organisms are not blind exchanges but instead ones shaped by market conditions such as price, quality and competition.
For example, cleaner fish, small fish that pick dead cells and mucus off of larger fish, provide a higher-quality cleaning service when competing cleaner fish are around.
What is new is the suggestion that single-celled organisms might participate in markets as well. Gijsbert Werner, a doctoral candidate at Vrijie Universiteit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and the first author of the PNAS paper, said that the requirements for the emergence of market behavior are fairly minimal.
For biological markets to evolve, you actually onl
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis