Experimental evolution of selfish policing in social bacteria.
ABSTRACT: Cooperative organisms evolve within socially diverse populations. In populations harboring both cooperators and cheaters, cooperators might adapt by evolving novel interactions with either social type or both. Diverse animal traits suppress selfish behaviors when cooperation is important for fitness, but the potential for prokaryotes to evolve such traits is unclear. We allowed a strain of the bacterium Myxococcus xanthus that is proficient at cooperative fruiting body development to evolve while repeatedly encountering a non-evolving developmental cheater. Evolving populations greatly increased their fitness in the presence of the cheater, both relative to their ancestor and in terms of absolute spore productivity. However, the same evolved lineages exhibited a net disadvantage to the ancestor in the cheater's absence. Evolving populations reversed a large ancestral disadvantage to the cheater into competitive superiority and also evolved to strongly suppress cheater productivity. Moreover, in three-party mixes with the cheater, evolved populations enhanced their ancestor's productivity relative to mixes of only the ancestor and cheater. Thus, our evolved populations function as selfish police that inhibit cheaters, both to their own advantage and to the benefit of others as well. Cheater suppression was general across multiple unfamiliar cheaters but was more pronounced against the evolutionarily familiar cheater. Also, evolution generated three new mutually beneficial relationships, including complementary defect rescue between evolved cells and the selection-regime cheater. The rapid evolution of cheater suppression documented here suggests that coevolving social strategies within natural populations of prokaryotes are more diverse and complex than previously appreciated.
Project description:Cooperation via production of common goods is found in diverse life forms ranging from viruses to social animals. However, natural selection predicts a "tragedy of the commons": Cheaters, benefiting from without producing costly common goods, are more fit than cooperators and should destroy cooperation. In an attempt to discover novel mechanisms of cheater control, we eliminated known ones using a yeast cooperator-cheater system engineered to supply or exploit essential nutrients. Surprisingly, although less fit than cheaters, cooperators quickly dominated a fraction of cocultures. Cooperators isolated from these cocultures were superior to the cheater isolates they had been cocultured with, even though these cheaters were superior to ancestral cooperators. Resequencing and phenotypic analyses revealed that evolved cooperators and cheaters all harbored mutations adaptive to the nutrient-limited cooperative environment, allowing growth at a much lower concentration of nutrient than their ancestors. Even after the initial round of adaptation, evolved cooperators still stochastically dominated cheaters derived from them. We propose the "adaptive race" model: If during adaptation to an environment, the fitness gain of cooperators exceeds that of cheaters by at least the fitness cost of cooperation, the tragedy of the commons can be averted. Although cooperators and cheaters sample from the same pool of adaptive mutations, this symmetry is soon broken: The best cooperators purge cheaters and continue to grow, whereas the best cheaters cause rapid self-extinction. We speculate that adaptation to changing environments may contribute to the persistence of cooperative systems before the appearance of more sophisticated mechanisms of cheater control.
Project description:Heterotypic cooperation-two populations exchanging distinct benefits that are costly to produce-is widespread. Cheaters, exploiting benefits while evading contribution, can undermine cooperation. Two mechanisms can stabilize heterotypic cooperation. In 'partner choice', cooperators recognize and choose cooperating over cheating partners; in 'partner fidelity feedback', fitness-feedback from repeated interactions ensures that aiding your partner helps yourself. How might a spatial environment, which facilitates repeated interactions, promote fitness-feedback? We examined this process through mathematical models and engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains incapable of recognition. Here, cooperators and their heterotypic cooperative partners (partners) exchanged distinct essential metabolites. Cheaters exploited partner-produced metabolites without reciprocating, and were competitively superior to cooperators. Despite initially random spatial distributions, cooperators gained more partner neighbors than cheaters did. The less a cheater contributed, the more it was excluded and disfavored. This self-organization, driven by asymmetric fitness effects of cooperators and cheaters on partners during cell growth into open space, achieves assortment. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00960.001.
Project description:Cooperation is abundant in nature, occurring at all levels of biological complexity. Yet cooperation is continually threatened by subversion from noncooperating cheaters. Previous studies have shown that cooperation can nevertheless be maintained when the benefits that cooperation provides to relatives outweigh the associated costs. These fitness costs and benefits are not fixed properties, but can be affected by the environment in which populations reside. Here, we describe how one environmental factor, resource abundance, decisively affects the evolution of cooperative public goods production in two independent evolving systems. In the Avida digital evolution platform, populations evolved in environments with different levels of a required resource, whereas populations of Vibrio cholerae evolved in the presence of different nutrient concentrations. In both systems, cooperators and cheaters co-existed stably in resource-rich environments, whereas cheaters dominated in resource-poor environments. These two outcomes were separated by a sharp transition that occurred at a critical level of resource. These results offer new insights into how the environment affects the evolution of cooperation and highlight the challenges that populations of cooperators face when they experience environmental change.
Project description:The evolution of sociality and altruism is enigmatic because cooperators are constantly threatened by cheaters who benefit from cooperation without incurring its full cost [1, 2]. Kin recognition is the ability to recognize and cooperate with genetically close relatives. It has also been proposed as a potential mechanism that limits cheating [3, 4], but there has been no direct experimental support for that possibility. Here we show that kin recognition protects cooperators against cheaters. The social amoebae Dictyostelium discoideum cooperate by forming multicellular aggregates that develop into fruiting bodies of viable spores and dead stalk cells. Cheaters preferentially differentiate into spores while their victims die as stalk cells in chimeric aggregates. We engineered syngeneic cheaters and victims that differed only in their kin-recognition genes, tgrB1 and tgrC1, and in a single cheater allele and found that the victims escaped exploitation by different types of nonkin cheaters. This protection depends on kin-recognition-mediated segregation because it is compromised when we disrupt strain segregation. These findings provide direct evidence for the role of kin recognition in cheater control and suggest a mechanism for the maintenance of stable cooperative systems.
Project description:In a process termed quorum sensing (QS), the opportunistic bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses diffusible signaling molecules to regulate the expression of numerous secreted factors or public goods that are shared within the population. But not all cells respond to QS signals. These social cheaters typically harbor a mutation in the QS receptor gene lasR and exploit the public goods produced by cooperators. Here we show that non-social adaptation under growth conditions that require QS-dependent public goods increases tolerance to cheating and defers a tragedy of the commons. The underlying mutation is in the transcriptional repressor gene psdR. This mutation has no effect on public goods expression but instead increases individual fitness by derepressing growth-limiting intracellular metabolism. Even though psdR mutant populations remain susceptible to invasion by isogenic psdR lasR cheaters, they bear a lower cheater load than do wild-type populations, and they are completely resistant to invasion by lasR cheaters with functional psdR. Mutations in psdR also sustain growth near wild-type levels when paired with certain partial loss-of-function lasR mutations. Targeted sequencing of multiple evolved isolates revealed that mutations in psdR arise before mutations in lasR, and rapidly sweep through the population. Our results indicate that a QS-favoring environment can lead to adaptations in non-social, intracellular traits that increase the fitness of cooperating individuals and thereby contribute to population-wide maintenance of QS and associated cooperative behaviors.
Project description:Cooperation is subject to cheating strategies that exploit the benefits of cooperation without paying the fair costs, and it has been a major goal of evolutionary biology to explain the origin and maintenance of cooperation against such cheaters. Here, we report that cheater genotypes indeed coexist in field colonies of a social insect, the parthenogenetic ant Pristomyrmex punctatus. The life history of this species is exceptional, in that there is no reproductive division of labour: all females fulfil both reproduction and cooperative tasks. Previous studies reported sporadic occurrence of larger individuals when compared with their nest-mates. These larger ants lay more eggs and hardly take part in cooperative tasks, resulting in lower fitness of the whole colony. Population genetic analysis showed that at least some of these large-bodied individuals form a genetically distinct lineage, isolated from cooperators by parthenogenesis. A phylogenetic study confirmed that this cheater lineage originated intraspecifically. Coexistence of cheaters and cooperators in this species provides a good model system to investigate the evolution of cooperation in nature.
Project description:Mutualisms are balanced antagonistic interactions where both species gain a net benefit. Because mutualisms generate resources, they can be exploited by individuals that reap the benefits of the interaction without paying any cost. The presence of such 'cheaters' may have important consequences, yet we are only beginning to understand how cheaters evolve from mutualists and how their evolution may be curtailed within mutualistic lineages. The yucca-yucca moth pollination mutualism is an excellent model in this context as there have been two origins of cheating from within the yucca moth lineage. We used nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers to examine genetic structure in a moth population where a cheater species is parapatric with a resident pollinator. The results revealed extensive hybridization between pollinators and cheaters. Hybrids were genetically intermediate to parental populations, even though all individuals in this population had a pollinator phenotype. The results suggest that mutualisms can be stable in the face of introgression of cheater genes and that the ability of cheaters to invade a given mutualism may be more limited than previously appreciated.
Project description:The sustainability of biological, social, economic and ecological communities is often determined by the outcome of social conflicts between cooperative and selfish individuals (cheaters). Cheaters avoid the cost of contributing to the community and can occasionally spread in the population leading to the complete collapse of cooperation. Although such collapse often unfolds unexpectedly, it is unclear whether one can detect the risk of cheater's invasions and loss of cooperation in an evolving community. Here, we combine dynamical networks and evolutionary game theory to study the abrupt loss of cooperation with tools for studying critical transitions. We estimate the risk of cooperation collapse following the introduction of a single cheater under gradually changing conditions. We observe an increase in the average time it takes for cheaters to be eliminated from the community as the risk of collapse increases. We argue that such slow system response resembles slowing down in recovery rates prior to a critical transition. In addition, we show how changes in community structure reflect the risk of cooperation collapse. We find that these changes strongly depend on the mechanism that governs how cheaters evolve in the community. Our results highlight novel directions for detecting abrupt transitions in evolving networks.
Project description:In all domains of life, mechanisms exist that protect cooperating groups from exploitation by cheaters. Recent observations with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa have suggested a paradigmatic cheater control mechanism in which cooperator cells punish or "police" cheater cells by cyanide poisoning. These cheater cells are deficient in a pleiotropic quorum-sensing regulator that controls the production of cooperative secretions including cyanide, and presumably also cyanide resistance. In this study, we directly tested and refuted the cyanide policing model. Contrary to the hypothesis, cheater fitness was unaffected by the presence of cyanide. Cheater mutants grew equally well in co-cultures with either cyanide-proficient or cyanide-deficient cooperators, and they were as resistant to exogenous cyanide as wild-type cells. We show that these behaviors are the result of quorum-sensing-independent and cyanide-responsive resistance gene regulation. Our results highlight the role of genetic architecture in the evolution of cooperative behavior.
Project description:Cooperative organisms are ubiquitous in nature, despite their vulnerability to exploitation by cheaters. Although numerous theoretical studies suggest that spatial structure is critical for cooperation to persist, the spatial ecology of microbial cooperation remains largely unexplored experimentally. By tracking the community dynamics of cooperating (rpoS wild-type) and cheating (rpoS mutant) Escherichia coli in well-mixed flasks and microfabricated habitats, we demonstrate that spatial structure stabilizes coexistence between wild-type and mutant and thus facilitates cooperator maintenance. We develop a method to interpret our experimental results in the context of game theory, and show that the game wild-type and mutant bacteria play in an unstructured environment changes markedly over time, and eventually obeys a prisoner's dilemma leading to cheater dominance. In contrast, when wild-type and mutant E. coli co-inhabit a spatially-structured habitat, cooperators and cheaters coexist at intermediate frequencies. Our findings show that even in microhabitats lacking patchiness or spatial heterogeneities in resource availability, surface growth allows cells to form multi-cellular aggregates, yielding a self-structured community in which cooperators persist.