Royal Society Publishing

An invitation to die: initiators of sociality in a social amoeba become selfish spores

Jennie J. Kuzdzal-Fick, David C. Queller, Joan E. Strassmann


Greater size and strength are common attributes of contest winners. Even in social insects with high cooperation, the right to reproduce falls to the well-fed queens rather than to poorly fed workers. In Dictyostelium discoideum, formerly solitary amoebae aggregate when faced with starvation, and some cells die to form a stalk which others ride up to reach a better location to sporulate. The first cells to starve have lower energy reserves than those that starve later, and previous studies have shown that the better-fed cells in a mix tend to form disproportionately more reproductive spores. Therefore, one might expect that the first cells to starve and initiate the social stage should act altruistically and form disproportionately more of the sterile stalk, thereby enticing other better-fed cells into joining the aggregate. This would resemble caste determination in social insects, where altruistic workers are typically fed less than reproductive queens. However, we show that the opposite result holds: the first cells to starve become reproductive spores, presumably by gearing up for competition and outcompeting late starvers to become prespore first. These findings pose the interesting question of why others would join selfish organizers.


    • Received March 16, 2010.
    • Accepted May 6, 2010.
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