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Does high relatedness promote cheater‐free multicellularity in synthetic lifecycles?

Inglis, R. F., Ryu, E., Asikhia, O., Strassmann, J. E., Queller, D. C.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2017 v.30 no.5 pp. 985-993
clones, evolution, kin recognition, mutants
The evolution of multicellularity is one of the key transitions in evolution and requires extreme levels of cooperation between cells. However, even when cells are genetically identical, noncooperative cheating mutants can arise that cause a breakdown in cooperation. How then, do multicellular organisms maintain cooperation between cells? A number of mechanisms that increase relatedness amongst cooperative cells have been implicated in the maintenance of cooperative multicellularity including single‐cell bottlenecks and kin recognition. In this study, we explore how relatively simple biological processes such as growth and dispersal can act to increase relatedness and promote multicellular cooperation. Using experimental populations of pseudo‐organisms, we found that manipulating growth and dispersal of clones of a social amoeba to create high levels of relatedness was sufficient to prevent the spread of cheating mutants. By contrast, cheaters were able to spread under low‐relatedness conditions. Most surprisingly, we saw the largest increase in cheating mutants under an experimental treatment that should create intermediate levels of relatedness. This is because one of the factors raising relatedness, structured growth, also causes high vulnerability to growth rate cheaters.