Computation of mutual fitness by competing bacteria

Juan E. Keymer, Peter Galajda, Guillaume Lambert, David Liao, Robert H. Austin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Competing populations in shared spaces with nonrenewable resources do not necessarily wage a battle for dominance at the cost of extinction of the less-fit strain if there are fitness advantages to the presence of the other strain. We report on the use of nanofabricated habitat landscapes to study the population dynamics of competing wild type and a growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) mutant strains of Escherichia coli in a sealed and heterogeneous nutrient environment. Although GASP mutants are competitors with wild-type bacteria, we find that the 2 strains cooperate to maximize fitness (long-term total productivity) via spatial segregation: despite their very close genomic kinship, wild-type populations associate with wild-type populations and GASP populations with GASP populations. Thus, wild-type and GASP strains avoid each other locally, yet fitness is enhanced for both strains globally. This computation of fitness enhancement emerges from the local interaction among cells but maximizes global densities. At present we do not understand how fluctuations in both spatial and temporal dimensions lead to the emergent computation and how multilevel aggregates produce this collective adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20269-20273
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 23 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Biophysics
  • Competition
  • Ecology
  • Microbiology


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