Kin discrimination and cooperation in microbes

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2011;65:349-67. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.112408.134109.


Recognition of relatives is important in microbes because they perform many behaviors that have costs to the actor while benefiting neighbors. Microbes cooperate for nourishment, movement, virulence, iron acquisition, protection, quorum sensing, and production of multicellular biofilms or fruiting bodies. Helping others is evolutionarily favored if it benefits others who share genes for helping, as specified by kin selection theory. If microbes generally find themselves in clonal patches, then no special means of discrimination is necessary. Much real discrimination is actually of kinds, not kin, as in poison-antidote systems, such as bacteriocins, in which cells benefit their own kind by poisoning others, and in adhesion systems, in which cells of the same kind bind together. These behaviors can elevate kinship generally and make cooperation easier to evolve and maintain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Cell Communication
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Eukaryota / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungi / genetics*
  • Fungi / physiology
  • Models, Genetic
  • Selection, Genetic*