Quantitative evolutionary analysis of the life cycle of social amoebae

Abstract : Social amoebae are eukaryotic organisms that inhabit soil of almost every climate zone. They are remarkable for their switch from unicellularity to multicellularity as an adaptation to starvation. When starved, millions of single cells aggregate and form a multicellular fruiting body, which contains reproductive spore cells and dead stalk cells, which help in spore dispersion. This costly behavior made social amoebae a model system for addressing major questions of the evolution of cooperation and multicellularity. In this study we look at three different aspects of social amoebae behavior; aggregation, non-aggregation and competition, and ask how they contribute to our understanding of cooperation in social amoebae and microbial systems in general.We explored the known but neglected observation that, upon starvation, not all cells aggregate and engage in multicellular development. We describe phenotypically and genetically non-aggregating cell proportion in D. discoideum species. Both aggregating and non-aggregating strategy are costly or beneficial depending on duration of starvation. With our computational model we propose that partitioning the population into unicellular and multicellular states is adaptive in fluctuating environments with unpredicted duration of starvation periods. Social amoebae may therefore lie at the intersection of cooperation and bet-hedging. In the second part, we provide a new framework for addressing the contrasting observations of high genetic diversity in natural populations of social amoebae and experimentally suggested low diversity-high relatedness required for cooperation. We propose that complex life cycle of social amoebae provides multiple competition points that can possibly play an important role in maintaining diversity and cooperation. We explore this experimentally and computationally by looking at competition over the whole life cycle between 6 natural isolates of D. discoideum. Our simulation model indicates that competition at different stages of the life cycle can lead to exclusion of “social winners”. Though we failed to explain strain coexistence. Although preliminary, our results emphasize the importance of integrating species ecology in cooperative studies.Finally, we focus on a new aggregation dynamics in P. pallidum species observed in our lab. Aggregation is a population level process during which population gets divided into numerous subpopulations/aggregates that face selection independently. Such population partitioning can have strong evolutionary consequences on cooperation that have not yet been explored experimentally. We describe the population dynamics qualitatively and propose several quantitative measurements of population partitioning into aggregates. Our preliminary results suggest that there is a preference for aggregates of certain size, but there is no spatial organization of aggregates.
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Darja Dubravcic. Quantitative evolutionary analysis of the life cycle of social amoebae. Agricultural sciences. Université René Descartes - Paris V, 2013. English. ⟨NNT : 2013PA05T033⟩. ⟨tel-00914467⟩

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