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The evolution of tit-for-tat in bacteria via the type VI secretion system

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Unterweger,  Daniel
Guest Group Evolutionary Genomics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Smith, W. P. J., Brodmann, M., Unterweger, D., Davit, Y., Comstock, L. E., Basler, M., et al. (2020). The evolution of tit-for-tat in bacteria via the type VI secretion system. Nature Communications, 11: 5395. doi:10.1038/s41467-020-19017-z.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-7F9E-A
Abstract
Tit-for-tat is a familiar principle from animal behavior: individuals respond in kind to being helped or harmed by others. Remarkably some bacteria appear to display tit-for-tat behavior, but how this evolved is not understood. Here we combine evolutionary game theory with agent-based modelling of bacterial tit-for-tat, whereby cells stab rivals with poisoned needles (the type VI secretion system) after being stabbed themselves. Our modelling shows tit-for-tat retaliation is a surprisingly poor evolutionary strategy, because tit-for-tat cells lack the first-strike advantage of preemptive attackers. However, if cells retaliate strongly and fire back multiple times, we find that reciprocation is highly effective. We test our predictions by competing Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a tit-for-tat species) with Vibrio cholerae (random-firing), revealing that P. aeruginosa does indeed fire multiple times per incoming attack. Our work suggests bacterial competition has led to a particular form of reciprocation, where the principle is that of strong retaliation, or ‘tits-for-tat’.