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Division of labour in the test tube

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Bacteria grow faster if they feed each other. The division of labour is more efficient than a struggle through life without help from others – this is also true for microorganisms. Researchers from Research Group Experimental Ecology and Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and their colleagues at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany came to this conclusion when they performed experiments with microbes. The scientists worked with bacteria that were deficient in the production of a certain amino acid and therefore depended on a partner to provide the missing nutrient. Bacterial strains that complemented each other’s need by providing the required amino acid showed a fitness increase of about 20% relative to a non-deficient strain without partner. This result helps to explain why cooperation is such a widespread model of success in nature.

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