60-Second Science

Marine Bacterium Creates Cooperative Populations

Vibrionaceae bacteria form populations with a few antibiotic producers and many resistant individuals--the group can thus defend against other groups without their arrangement. Sophie Bushwick reports

As a kindergarten teacher might say, sharing is caring. She might not mention that cooperation is also a great way to form a community, and thus improve everyone’s chances of survival. Humans aren’t the only ones to apply this strategy—marine bacteria also form cooperative populations, according to a study in the journal Science. [Otto X. Cordero et al., Ecological Populations of Bacteria Act as Socially Cohesive Units of Antibiotic Production and Resistance]

Researchers examined the genomes of bacteria belonging to the Vibrionaceae family. In the lab, they grouped together bacteria with similar genetics that coexist in the same micro-habitat. The scientists expected that within any given population, individuals capable of producing antibiotics would use these chemical weapons against others. But when they looked at interactions between different strains of Vibrionaceae, they found that only a few members of any given population could produce the bacteria-killing substances, and the rest of that community was resistant to those particular compounds.

But the antibiotics could fight off foreign populations, while leaving members of the home group unharmed. This arrangement implies a bacterial social structure where individuals help the group as a whole. Crayon-hoarding toddlers might want to take note.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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