Navigation Links
Research sheds light on altruism

EAST LANSING, Mich. Using digital evolution techniques that give scientists the ability to watch evolution in action, Michigan State University researchers have shed new light on what it is that makes species altruistic.

Defined as the ability to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others, altruism has been a bit of a genetic mystery. Understanding why altruism evolves is one of the fundamental challenges in evolutionary theory.

However, a paper published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers affiliated with MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action has shed new light on the subject. This study marked the first time that scientists have been able to test such generalizations of kin selection theory.

"The ability to conduct research in digital systems enabled us to learn nuances of kin selection theory that may have been difficult to discover via evolutionary experiments in natural systems," said team member Charles Ofria.

Using digital evolution technology, the team learned how altruism evolves by setting up different experimental situations. Through this, the researchers found that genes were more likely to help others that were physically similar to them, as opposed to strictly helping those that are related to them.

"Sometimes, by chance, relatives do not share genes, while complete strangers do," said Jeff Clune, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University who recently earned his doctorate from MSU. "A potentially better strategy, then, is to help individuals who are very physically similar to you, which may be a proxy for genetic similarity."

"By observing digital organisms that had the ability to sense genetic similarity in addition to kinship, we confirmed that, if given the choice, populations of organisms that were being altruistic toward kin will evolve to stop doing so, and instead help those organisms that are genetically similar," said Rob Pennock, a BEACON researcher and paper co-author.

Testing these predictions is difficult in biological systems because it is hard to take a group of organisms that are all acting altruistic toward their relatives and experimentally give them a new ability to base altruism on genetic similarity.

"One of the great things about digital evolution is that it allows scientists to explore alternative evolutionary trajectories besides those that have already occurred on Earth," Clune said. "This experiment raises the interesting prospect that life on other planets may not revolve around familial units, but could instead be based on shared genes."

Another possibility was that organisms may choose to help only individuals who carry specific markers to indicate the presence of an "altruism gene." The mechanism, described as a "greenbeard gene," involves a conspicuous marker, such as a green beard, which indicates the presence of the altruist gene. It was theorized that in such a system all organisms with green beards would recognize and be altruistic toward each other.

Clune and his collaborators gave the digital organisms the equivalent of greenbeard genes to see if they would use them to choose who to help.

"To our surprise," said team member Heather Goldsby, "the digital organisms did not evolve to base altruism on the presence of greenbeard markers instead, they continued to rely on overall genetic similarity."

Why did the digital organisms ignore the greenbeard markers? It was discovered that the greenbeard mechanism was too inflexible: It did not allow the organisms to adjust how altruistic to be.

"The greenbeard mechanism cannot evolve to increase the minimum amount of altruism that needs to be performed to join the greenbeard club," Clune said. "For that reason, greenbeards have an incentive to do the minimal amount necessary to reap the benefits of being in the club, and no more. Unfortunately for them, that means they cannot take advantage of the benefits of increased amounts of altruism."


Contact: Tom Oswald
Michigan State University

Related biology news :

1. Wistar Institute researcher receives New Innovator award from NIH
2. NC State researchers get to root of parasite genome
3. White Mountain Research Station to host climate change conference
4. Stevens awarded $1M for advanced biofuels research
5. Researchers find animal with ability to survive climate change
6. Researchers find an essential gene for forming ears of corn
7. Researchers note differences between people and animals on calorie restriction
8. Researcher working on destruction of chemical weapons
9. Researchers study acoustic communication in deep-sea fish
10. Researchers discover that growing up too fast may mean dying young in honey bees
11. The Rett Syndrome Research Trust launches operations
Post Your Comments:
(Date:12/1/2015)... JOSE, Calif. , Dec. 1, 2015 ... of human interface solutions, today announced a new agreement ... enable OEMs with real-world test and development environments that ... Labs solutions. The partnership reduces the complexity of FIDO ... and software permits Synaptics and OEMs to verify FIDO ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. , Nov. 30, 2015 ... selected as a finalist in this year,s Fierce Innovation ... publisher of FierceHealthIT , ... BIOCLAIM was recognized as a finalist in the ... --> ...
(Date:11/26/2015)... DUBLIN , Nov. 26, 2015 Research ... of the "Capacitive Fingerprint Sensors - Technology and ... --> --> ... market, especially in smartphones. The fingerprint sensor vendor Idex ... fingerprint sensor units in mobile devices and of the ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:12/1/2015)... OXFORD, England , December 1, 2015 ... Touch is a touch activated lancet that features Owen ... Vancouver , booth 1403, Unistik® Touch is a ... Zone Technology®. --> Owen Mumford, a leading ... its range of medical devices, available initially in the ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... SEATTLE , Dec. 1, 2015 Today ... headquarters in Seattle,s South Lake ... northwest corner of Mercer Street and Westlake Avenue North, ... to the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the ... Allen , philanthropist and founder of the Allen Institute. ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... -- Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and ... MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome ... errors. The refined technique addresses one of the major ... Science , Feng Zhang and his ... amino acids that make up the Cas9 enzyme from ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... Dec. 1, 2015  Twist Bioscience, a company focused on ... , Ph.D., has been selected as one of Foreign ... fast-tracking the building blocks of life . Each year, ... whose contributions and work have changed lives and are shaping ... "It is an honor to be recognized among these incredible ...
Breaking Biology Technology: