Research Topic

Conflict and Cooperation in Microbial Societies

About this Research Topic

The most evident aspect of biodiversity is the variety of complex forms and behaviors among organisms, both living and extinct. Comparative molecular and physiological studies show that the evolution of complex phenotypic traits involves multiple levels of biological organization (i.e. genes, chromosomes, ...

The most evident aspect of biodiversity is the variety of complex forms and behaviors among organisms, both living and extinct. Comparative molecular and physiological studies show that the evolution of complex phenotypic traits involves multiple levels of biological organization (i.e. genes, chromosomes, organelles, cells, individual organisms, species, etc.). Regardless of the specific molecular mechanisms and details, the evolution of different complex biological organizations share a commonality: cooperation and conflict among the parts of the biological unit under study. The potential for conflict among parts is abundant, as demonstrated by meiotic drive, mitochondrial diseases, cancer and ‘tragedy of the commons’. How then do complex systems persist, given the necessity of cooperative behavior for their maintenance, when the potential for conflict occurs across all levels of biological organization?

In this Research Topic we are particularly interested in presenting ideas and work on the question, how is cooperation maintained in face of exploitation? The central goal is to explicate how selection can favor complexity across levels of biological organization, despite conflicts acting within and across levels. We ask how selection at lower levels of biological complexity does not necessarily preclude evolution of new integration units. And then once evolved, how do different levels of selection coexist and how is cooperative behavior maintained in face of exploitation. We are interested in presenting examples of cooperation and conflict at different levels of biological organization to discuss the consequences that this “tension” have had in the diversification and emergence of novel phenotypic traits.

Cooperation among genes and among individual multicellular organisms are the extremes of different levels of biological organization in which cooperation has important roles in the origin and maintenance of novel phenotypic traits. Different study models have been particularly productive in this area of investigation, microbial ones most notably. Exemplary cases are studies investigating: the evolution of bacterial sex, bacterial communication, formation of colonial aggregates of cells, the origin and maintenance of multicellular organisms, and the stable coexistence of multispecies consortia producing a cooperative product. These models provide experimental data about the origin and maintenance of cooperative phenotypes and the role of cooperation in the evolution of biological complexity. Moreover, microbial models are particularly tractable for identification of mechanisms through which cooperation can be maintained or defection controlled.

Mechanistic knowledge of any system or biological phenomenon allows for informed and effective manipulation or intervention of such. Thus, understanding the mechanisms of the origin and evolutionary maintenance of cooperation has implications beyond evolutionary biology. Our research topic will impact approaches in controlling microbial infections in medicine and the modes by studies in synthetic biology are conducted when designing economically important microbial consortia.


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