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Resolving Social Conflict Is Key to Survival of Bacterial Communities

Far from being selfish organisms whose sole purpose is to maximize their own reproduction, bacteria in large communities work for the greater good by resolving a social conflict among individuals to enhance the survival of their entire community.

The discovery of this unusual behavior among bacteria in large communities, detailed in a paper in the July 22 advance online publication of Nature, comes not from any inherent altruism among the bacteria. Instead, it “emerges” spontaneously from the community in which the bacteria grow.

It turns out that, much like human societies, bacterial communities benefit when they can balance opposing needs within the group.