In the News (from MIT News): “Many organisms — mammals, birds and insects, for instance — also form cooperative social structures that allow resources to be defended and shared within a population.
“But surprisingly, even microbes, which are thought to thrive only when able to win the battle for resources against those nearest to them, have a somewhat sophisticated social structure that relies on cooperation, according to MIT scientists. These researchers have recently found evidence that some ocean microbes wield chemical weapons that are harmless to close relatives within their own population, but deadly to outsiders.
“The weapons are natural antibiotics produced by a few individuals whose closest relatives carry genes that make them resistant. The researchers believe that the few antibiotic producers are acting as protectors of the many, using the antibiotics to defend the population from competitors or to attack neighboring populations. …
“This makes cooperation involving antibiotics doubly surprising, because the ability to produce antibiotics is a classic example of a ‘selfish’ gene that ought to increase the fitness — or reproductive rate — of the individual carrying the gene. In a strictly competitive environment, the microbe would use this advantage against its closest relatives. But now it looks as if this competition is modulated by social interactions where antibiotics produced by a few individuals act as ‘public goods:’ items that benefit the group, rather than just the individual.
“This differentiation of populations into individuals that produce antibiotics and those that are resistant is one of the first demonstrations that microbial populations engage in a division of labor by social role. This observation also provides an explanation for why so many genes are patchily distributed across genomes of closely related microbes. At least some of these genes may be responsible for creating tightly knit social units of bacteria in the wild.
“’It’s easy to imagine bacteria in the environment as selfish creatures capable only of reproducing as fast as conditions allow, without any social organization,’ says Otto Cordero, a CEE postdoc who is a first author on the Science paper. ‘But that is the mind-blowing part: Bacterial wars are organized along the lines of populations, which are groups of closely related individuals with similar ecological activities.’”
My Comment: This is not surprising because the developed egoism makes it necessary to unite for the sake of defense. So, as a result of the crisis, we find that in order to survive we need to unite above and contrary to our individualistic egoism.