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The microbe Myxococcus xanthus is particularly cooperative. Found in soils all over the world, it has been used by scientists as a model organism to study microbial development and cooperation. The cells of this predatory bacterium form cooperative groups that swarm together and hunt other microorganisms within the soil. In order to move as a group, they secrete lubricating substances and cast out appendages that attach to the surrounding surface and other cells, moving them forward as they retract these appendages. When food becomes scarce, thousands of these bacteria aggregate into a fruiting body and form resting spores, allowing them to withstand hunger and drought.
Researchers previously had theoretical reasons to expect that cooperative groups of microbes in nature might generally be socially homogeneous, as this would prevent conflict between cells from undermining cooperation. Genetically distinct individuals from different groups have been shown to often avoid, obstruct, and even combat each other. "Our knowledge about the genetic composition within cooperative groups of these social bacteria in nature used to be very limited," says Sébastien Wielgoss, a lecturer in the research group of Professor Gregory Velicer, Institute for Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich.
Colleagues - Wielgoss - Velicer - Relationships - Members
With their colleagues, Wielgoss and Velicer have more closely examined the genetic relationships between members of the same M. xanthus fruiting body group in the soil. They used one of the largest collections of M. xanthus strains worldwide, kept by Velicer in his laboratory freezers.
In a study recently published in Science, the researchers used genetic analyses to show that while cooperative groups of the soil bacterium M. xanthus do consist of closely related cells, the number of genetic types and varieties of social behaviour found within individual fruiting-body groups are unexpectedly high. The researchers inferred that these collections of diversified cell lines can remain intact for hundreds of generations.
For their study,...
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