PerspectiveBiofilms

Coupling and sharing when life is hard

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Science  12 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6338, pp. 583-584
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3886

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Summary

Biological systems interact in a multitude of complex ways. For example, constituent cells in a multicellular organism communicate with each other, often using diffusible chemical signals. Another example is competition among organisms for resources, a phenomenon observed even in the simplest ecologies. Such interactions typically are not characterized by oscillations—that is, there is no regular, cyclic variation in the value of a relevant parameter. Tellingly, the most striking exception to this generalization is found in some predator-prey dynamics in which the size of the prey population oscillates out of phase with the size of the predator population (1). On page 638 of this issue, Liu et al. (2) report that the oscillatory growth rates of two discrete bacterial colonies become coupled, a behavior that is linked to their competition for a common and limited resource.