Genetic information transfer promotes cooperation in bacteria

Tatiana Dimitriu, Chantal Lotton, Julien Beńard-Capelle, Dusan Misevic, Sam P. Brown, Ariel B. Lindner*, Franco̧is Taddei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Many bacterial species are social, producing costly secreted "public good" molecules that enhance the growth of neighboring cells. The genes coding for these cooperative traits are often propagated via mobile genetic elements and can be virulence factors from a biomedical perspective. Here, we present an experimental framework that links genetic information exchange and the selection of cooperative traits. Using simulations and experiments based on a synthetic bacterial system to control public good secretion and plasmid conjugation, we demonstrate that horizontal gene transfer can favor cooperation. In a well-mixed environment, horizontal transfer brings a direct infectious advantage to any gene, regardless of its cooperation properties. However, in a structured population transfer selects specifically for cooperation by increasing the assortment among cooperative alleles. Conjugation allows cooperative alleles to overcome rarity thresholds and invade bacterial populations structured purely by stochastic dilution effects. Our results provide an explanation for the prevalence of cooperative genes on mobile elements, and suggest a previously unidentified benefit of horizontal gene transfer for bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11103-11108
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2014

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Bacterial cooperation
  • Gene mobility
  • Plasmid transfer
  • Social evolution


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