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Is “Wolf‐Pack” Predation by Antimicrobial Bacteria Cooperative? Cell Behaviour and Predatory Mechanisms Indicate Profound Selfishness, Even when Working Alongside Kin

Marshall, Rupert C., Whitworth, David E.
BioEssays 2019 v.41 no.4 pp. e1800247
Myxobacteria, bacteria, models, phenotype, predation, public services and goods, resistance mechanisms, toxins
For decades, myxobacteria have been spotlighted as exemplars of social “wolf‐pack” predation, communally secreting antimicrobial substances into the shared public milieu. This behavior has been described as cooperative, becoming more efficient if performed by more cells. However, laboratory evidence for cooperativity is limited and of little relevance to predation in a natural setting. In contrast, there is accumulating evidence for predatory mechanisms promoting “selfish” behavior during predation, which together with conflicting definitions of cooperativity, casts doubt on whether microbial “wolf‐pack” predation really is cooperative. Here, it is hypothesized that public‐goods‐mediated predation is not cooperative, and it is argued that a holistic model of microbial predation is needed, accounting for predator and prey relatedness, social phenotypes, spatial organization, activity/specificity/transport of secreted toxins, and prey resistance mechanisms. Filling such gaps in our knowledge is vital if the evolutionary benefits of potentially costly microbial behaviors mediated by public goods are to be properly understood.