Multimedia Release

Industrious communities can create cheaters, even in bacteria

Bacterial colonies fail to reach their potential when cooperative growth creates opportunities for laziness

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Duke University

Bacterial Patterns Reveal Cheaters


These colorful patterns are proof that bacteria and humans aren’t all that different — both harbor individuals that will take the easy way out when given the chance. And that lifestyle can quickly spread to the detriment of all. The bacteria shown here, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, lost their ability to grow into large colonies when cultured on growth plates over multiple generations. This was because when grown on relatively large flat surfaces, opportunities arose for some of the cells to simply let their neighbors create the slippery surfactant required to spread expand. And when the same scenario was presented over and over again, these so-called “cheaters” became more and more common, until the colonies no longer produced enough slippery surfactant to spread effectively.

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Credit: Lingchong You, Duke University

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