This story is from the category Life
Date posted: 06/04/2009
One of the perplexing questions raised by evolutionary theory is how cooperative behavior, which benefits other members of a species at a cost to the individual, came to exist.
Cooperative behavior has puzzled biologists because if only the fittest survive, genes for a behavior that benefits everybody in a population should not last and cooperative behavior should die out, says Jeff Gore, a Pappalardo postdoctoral fellow in MIT's Department of Physics.
Gore is part of a team of MIT researchers that has used game theory to understand one solution yeast use to get around this problem. The team's findings, published in the April 6 online edition of Nature, indicate that if an individual can benefit even slightly by cooperating, it can survive even when surrounded by individuals that don't cooperate.
In short, the study offers a concrete example of how cooperative behaviors can be compatible with evolutionary theory.
Yeast may seem unlikely subjects for a study of cooperative behavior, but in fact they are perfectly suited to such studies, says Gore. Unlike humans, yeast have no emotions or thoughts that interfere with rational decision-making; their actions are solely driven by their genetic response to the environment.
"You can apply game theory to biological interactions and in some ways it's more broadly applicable than it is in humans," says Gore, the paper's lead author.
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