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Proc Biol Sci. 2002 Nov 22;269(1507):2357-62.

The costs and benefits of being a chimera.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, MS 170, 6100 Main, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


Most multicellular organisms are uniclonal. This is hypothesized to be because uniclonal organisms function better than chimeras (non-clonal organisms), owing to reduced levels of internal genetic conflict. We tested this idea using the social amoeba or slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum. When starving, the normally solitary amoebae aggregate to form a differentiated multicellular slug that migrates towards light and forms a fruiting body, facilitating the dispersal of spores. We added 10(7) amoebae to Petri plates containing 1, 2, 5 or 10 clones mixed together. We found an intrinsic cost to chimerism: chimeric slugs moved significantly less far than uniclonal slugs of the same size. However, in nature, joining with other clones to form a chimera should increase slug size, and larger slugs travel further. We incorporated this size effect into a second experiment by giving chimeras more cells than single clones (single clones had 10(6) cells, two-clone chimeras had 2 x 10(6) cells and so on). The uniclonal treatments then simulated a clone in a mixture that refuses to form chimeras. In this experiment, chimeras moved significantly further than the uniclonal slugs, in spite of the intrinsic cost. Thus, chimerism is costly, which may be why it evolves so seldom, but in D. discoideum the benefits of large size appear to compensate.

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