PerspectiveEcology

The Advantages of Togetherness

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Science  20 Apr 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5516, pp. 448-449
DOI: 10.1126/science.1060456

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Summary

What would be the advantage of unicellular organisms becoming multicellular? For organisms that feed on organic food (heterotrophs), the most efficient way to produce energy is to metabolize the food by aerobic respiration, but the fastest way is to metabolize it by fermentation. In their Perspective, Cox and Bonner discuss a mathematical model ( Pfeiffer et al.), which shows that when these two kinds of organisms (respirators and fermenters) compete for a limited food source, the respirators manage best when they are grouped in clusters rather than remaining as separate cells. In this way, multicellularity could have originated.