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Tiny acts of microbe justice help reveal how nature fights freeloaders
Date:1/6/2014

rinceton findings also provide insight into how all microbes potentially preserve themselves by imposing fairness and resolving the "public goods dilemma," in which a group must work together while also avoiding exploitation by their self-serving individuals, said co-lead author Carey Nadell, a postdoctoral research associate in Bassler's lab.

"The public goods dilemma is a central problem in the history of life on Earth, during which single cells have emerged as collectives of genes, multicellular organisms have emerged as collectives of cells, and societies have emerged as collectives of multicellular organisms," Nadell said.

"At each of these transitions in complexity there has been and remains the threat of exploitation by single members pursuing their own interests at the expense of the collective as a whole," Nadell said. "Clarifying how exploitation can be averted is therefore critical to understanding how life has taken the various forms that exist today."

Like all bacteria, V. cholerae strains of which can cause cholera frequently lives in dense communities called biofilms. Also like other bacteria, V. cholerae secretes enzymes that break down the solid organic carbon- and nitrogen-containing molecules of which living things are composed so that the bacterium can feast on the components within. But not every individual bacterium will produce enzymes some will simply feed on what their organic-compound digesting neighbors produce. The researchers found two mechanisms by which this leeching is halted.

The vigilance of V. cholerae and other bacteria may also carry a larger benefit. The nitrogen and carbon that make up most of the planet's breathable air largely come from the digestion of organic materials by bacteria.

The researchers studied V. cholerae as it feasted on its preferred victual, chitin, a sugar-based molecule and the central element of many marine cells, exoskeletons
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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