Evolution of cooperation and control of cheating in a social microbe

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jun 28;108 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):10855-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1102451108. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

Abstract

Much of what we know about the evolution of altruism comes from animals. Here, we show that studying a microbe has yielded unique insights, particularly in understanding how social cheaters are controlled. The social stage of Dictylostelium discoideum occurs when the amoebae run out of their bacterial prey and aggregate into a multicellular, motile slug. This slug forms a fruiting body in which about a fifth of cells die to form a stalk that supports the remaining cells as they form hardy dispersal-ready spores. Because this social stage forms from aggregation, it is analogous to a social group, or a chimeric multicellular organism, and is vulnerable to internal conflict. Advances in cell labeling, microscopy, single-gene knockouts, and genomics, as well as the results of decades of study of D. discoideum as a model for development, allow us to explore the genetic basis of social contests and control of cheaters in unprecedented detail. Cheaters are limited from exploiting other clones by high relatedness, kin discrimination, pleiotropy, noble resistance, and lottery-like role assignment. The active nature of these limits is reflected in the elevated rates of change in social genes compared with nonsocial genes. Despite control of cheaters, some conflict is still expressed in chimeras, with slower movement of slugs, slightly decreased investment in stalk compared with spore cells, and differential contributions to stalk and spores. D. discoideum is rapidly becoming a model system of choice for molecular studies of social evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chimera / genetics
  • Dictyostelium / genetics*
  • Ecology
  • Genome, Protozoan
  • Reproduction / genetics