Cooper, Guy Alexander, Liu, Ming, Peña, Jorge and West, Stuart Andrew (2022) The evolution of mechanisms to produce phenotypic heterogeneity in microorganisms. Nature Communications, vol.13 (n°195).

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Identification Number : 10.1038/s41467-021-27902-4


In bacteria and other microorganisms, the cells within a population often show extreme phenotypic variation. Different species use different mechanisms to determine how distinct phenotypes are allocated between individuals, including coordinated, random, and genetic determination. However, it is not clear if this diversity in mechanisms is adaptive—arising because different mechanisms are favoured in different environments—or is merely the result of non-adaptive artifacts of evolution. We use theoretical models to analyse the relative advantages of the two dominant mechanisms to divide labour between reproductives and helpers in microorganisms. We show that coordinated specialisation is more likely to evolve over random specialisation in well-mixed groups when: (i) social groups are small; (ii) helping is more “essential”; and (iii) there is a low metabolic cost to coordination. We find analogous results when we allow for spatial structure with a more detailed model of cellular filaments. More generally, this work shows how diversity in the mechanisms to produce phenotypic heterogeneity could have arisen as adaptations to different environments.

Item Type: Article
Language: English
Date: January 2022
Refereed: Yes
Place of Publication: London
Divisions: TSE-R (Toulouse)
Site: UT1
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2022 11:05
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2023 07:13
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