Impact of spatial distribution on the development of mutualism in microbes

Ákos T. Kovács*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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The evolution of mutualism is one of the long-standing puzzles in evolutionary biology. Why would an individual contribute to the group at the expense of its own fitness? Individual bacterial cells cooperate by secreting products that are beneficial for the community, but costly to produce. It has been shown that cooperation is critical for microbial communities, most notably in biofilms, however, the degree of cooperation strongly depends on the culturing conditions. Spatial community structure provides a solution how cooperation might develop and remain stable. This perspective paper discusses recent progresses on experiments that use microbes to understand the role of spatial distribution on the stability of intraspecific cooperation from an evolutionary point of view and also highlights the effect of mutualism on spatial segregation. Recent publications in this area will be highlighted, which suggest that while mechanisms that allow assortment help to maintain cooperative traits, strong mutualism actually promotes population intermixing. Microbes provide simple and suitable systems to examine the features that define population organization and mutualism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number649
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberNOV
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Assortment
  • Cooperation
  • Microbial population
  • Non-producer
  • Surfaces


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