Social genes are selection hotspots in kin groups of a soil microbe

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Science  22 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6433, pp. 1342-1345
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4416

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Swarming in parallel toward sociality

The evolution of social behavior, and specifically of multicellularity, is poorly understood. An experimental model for multicellularity is the myxobacteria, which swarm and cooperate to form fruiting bodies in soil. Wielgoss et al. studied lineages of wild-caught myxobacteria. They found diversity, but also surprising genetic similarity, within fruiting bodies that was unlikely to be based on shared ancestry between them. Instead, reoccurrence of the same mutations seems to have occurred independently. These mutations have then been selected to confer similar phenotypes that converge on social behavior.

Science, this issue p. 1342


The composition of cooperative systems, including animal societies, organismal bodies, and microbial groups, reflects their past and shapes their future evolution. However, genomic diversity within many multiunit systems remains uncharacterized, limiting our ability to understand and compare their evolutionary character. We have analyzed genomic and social-phenotype variation among 120 natural isolates of the cooperative bacterium Myxococcus xanthus derived from six multicellular fruiting bodies. Each fruiting body was composed of multiple lineages radiating from a unique recent ancestor. Genomic evolution was concentrated in selection hotspots associated with evolutionary change in social phenotypes. Synonymous mutations indicated that kin lineages within the same fruiting body often first diverged from a common ancestor more than 100 generations ago. Thus, selection appears to promote endemic diversification of kin lineages that remain together over long histories of local interaction, thereby potentiating social coevolution.

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