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Evolution and social divergence

Evolutionary forces shaping ecology and evolution in microorganisms that engage in social interactions were studied by an EU-funded initiative. The work will help scientists to harness their huge potential for use in biotechnology.
Evolution and social divergence
Understanding of microbial genetic diversity in nature and how it relates to phenotypic divergence, including social traits, is extremely limited. This issue was addressed by the MICROSOCIOGENOMYX (Quantifying the roles that evolutionary forces play in shaping genomic and social divergence in natural populations of the cooperative bacterium Myxococcus xanthus) project.

The aim was to quantify how evolution affects genomic and social divergence in natural populations of the model cooperative myxobacterium, Myxococcus xanthus. The researcher identified and quantified the forces that shape Myxococcus biogeography and social diversity across spatial scales, ranging from single fruiting bodies up to continents.

The researcher used next-generation sequencing to examine evolution in the model cooperative which lives in soil and show self-organising behaviour in response to environmental cues. Work began by examining a collection of natural isolates to gain a clearer understanding of the genetic in diversity found in M. xanthus.

Genetic substitution patterns were examined among the natural isolates and selection and genetic drift quantified according to a ‘gold standard’ mutation rate. This was estimated according to the genome sequence of a large collection of lab-evolved strains from M. xanthus. By combining the power of mutation accumulation assays and next generation sequencing the most accurate mutation rate to date was achieved for M. xanthus.

Previously published phenotypic patterns in closely related isolates were linked to data for their whole genome to determine the molecular mechanism underlying social diversity. Candidate mutations were tested directly through construction of isogenic clones in the laboratory.

The genomes of many natural isolates were sequenced and assembled. The resulting data are an invaluable resource and will lead to a greater understanding of the genetic basis of different aspects of social interactions and their ecology and evolution. They include communal swarming, multicellular development, cheating and cheater control in natural myxobacterial isolates.

In addition, it was shown that for the first time molecular tools developed for laboratory strains of M. xanthus can be used to manipulate the genomes of natural isolates in general. This will enable the study of genotype-phenotype relations on a large scale. These techniques are now being applied to more natural groups and to identify general (and potentially parallel) targets of molecular evolution.

MICROSOCIOGENOMYX will increase understanding of microbiota in nature, enabling their potential to be used in nutrient cycling, soil remediation and pest control.

Related information


Cooperative bacteria, Myxococcus xanthus, myxobacterium, biogeography, social diversity, next generation sequencing, genetic substitution, phenotype
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