Syngenomics: Evolution − from Conflict to Cooperation to Mutualism
Mutualistic symbioses are the basis for the eukaryotic cell, and recent studies demonstrate that almost every species of plant and animal depends upon mutualistic interactions to survive and reproduce. Mutualisms and the ecological interactions between species that sustain them transcend the standard biological hierarchy of organization, from cells to individuals to populations to communities. Mutualisms conjoin the evolutionary trajectories of species from multiple levels in the hierarchy. Obligate mutualisms are more than species aggregates or communities, because the viability and reproduction of each component species in such a mutualism relies on genes not in its own genome, but in the genomes of other species.
Current evolutionary theory, which emphasizes selfishness and “genomic conflict”, is ill equipped for the study of mutualisms. This theory predicts that mutualisms should be unstable and should devolve into exploitation, since either party in a mutualism can “cheat” by withholding costs and free-riding on benefits. Yet, there are many examples across several taxa of the opposite, namely, a parasitic species becoming a mutualist with its host, and few if any examples of a mutualistic interaction becoming a purely exploitative one. The Focus Group will examine this contradiction between theoretical prediction and natural observation.
The members of the Focus Group are: Judith Bronstein, Timothy A. Linksvayer, Michael J. Wade (Convener) and Jason B. Wolf.
Michael J. Wade