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Nat Commun. 2016 Feb 8;7:10508. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10508.

Rapid radiation in bacteria leads to a division of labour.

Kim W1,2,3, Levy SB4, Foster KR1,2,3.

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK.
Oxford Centre for Integrative Systems Biology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QU, UK.
FAS Center for Systems Biology, University of Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance, Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.


The division of labour is a central feature of the most sophisticated biological systems, including genomes, multicellular organisms and societies, which took millions of years to evolve. Here we show that a well-organized and robust division of labour can evolve in a matter of days. Mutants emerge within bacterial colonies and work with the parent strain to gain new territory. The two strains self-organize in space: one provides a wetting polymer at the colony edge, whereas the other sits behind and pushes them both along. The emergence of the interaction is repeatable, bidirectional and only requires a single mutation to alter production of the intracellular messenger, cyclic-di-GMP. Our work demonstrates the power of the division of labour to rapidly solve biological problems without the need for long-term evolution or derived sociality. We predict that the division of labour will evolve frequently in microbial populations, where rapid genetic diversification is common.

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