Cell Biology

Playing Kissy with the Relatives

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Science  06 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6163, pp. 1147
DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6163.1147-c

Our understanding of how bacteria actually respond to their natural environment is sparse. Individual cells of several groups of bacteria cooperate to form multicellular fruiting bodies, but how do they select with whom to cooperate and avoid freeloaders or predators? Pathak et al. have discovered that when they cooperate, cells of the social bacterium Myxococcus xanthus exchange large quantities of membrane material. First, however, these cells want to know with whom they are getting intimate. It turns out that a polymorphic surface receptor, TraA, encodes a spectrum of receptors that can spot degree of relatedness via degree of affinity for the cognate Tra pair on other cells encountered. If close relatives are rare in the environment, this mechanism allows a less-related cell in the neighborhood to be selected as a stopgap that will cooperate enough to allow some form of multicellular reproductive structure to be built.

PLOS Genet. 9, 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003891 (2013).

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