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Microbial 'cheaters' help scientists ID 'social' genes
Date:2/13/2008

e key molecular mechanisms that might serve to stabilize cell cooperation."

Strassmann said, "Cheating is to be expected. Cooperation is the real story. Since cheaters can thrive without these 100-plus genes, there has to be some other reason that they're still in the genome."

D. discoideum are a common soil microbe. Their social order is one of the simplest in nature and it's an oft-used laboratory model for sociality. Though loners in times of plenty, D. discoideum form colonies when food is scarce, and work collectively to ensure their survival. About one fifth of the colony's individuals form a tall, thin stalk. The rest climb the stalk and clump together into a small bulb that can be carried away to better environs by the wind or on the legs of passing insects.

This simple social system poses an evolutionary conundrum for biologists; the individuals in the stalk give themselves up altruistically to support the colony, so what's to keep more selfish strains of D. discoideum from cheating the system, avoiding the stalk and out-reproducing their altruistic neighbors?

Strassmann and co-authors Gad Shaulsky, associate professor of molecular and human genetics at BCM, and David Queller, Rice's Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, have identified a handful of cheater mutations for D. discoideum in prior studies. However, identifying cheaters was just the start in the genome-wide study. Cheaters were also subjected to additional tests so the team could find out how exactly how they cheated. The scientists also examined the cheaters' genetic code to locate the precise site of the cheater mutations.

The tests found that cheaters would exploit virtually any advantage to increase their share of spores in the next colony. While strategies for cheating varied at the proteomic level, the study found some cheaters use a common genetic strategy -- they piggyback onto other essential functions. In
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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