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Am Nat. 2004 Jun;163(6):E126-35. Epub 2004 May 6.

Evolution of cross-feeding in microbial populations.

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Ecology and Evolution, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich, Switzerland.


Although limited by a single resource, microbial populations that grow for long periods in continuous culture (chemostat) frequently evolve stable polymorphisms. These polymorphisms may be maintained by cross-feeding, where one strain partially degrades the primary energy resource and excretes an intermediate that is used as an energy resource by a second strain. It is unclear what selective advantage cross-feeding strains have over a single competitor that completely degrades the primary resource. Here we show that cross-feeding may evolve in microbial populations as a consequence of the following optimization principles: the rate of ATP production is maximized, the concentration of enzymes of the pathway is minimized, and the concentration of intermediates of the pathway is minimized.

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