Colonies of Escherichia coli bacteria survive longer by developing restraint that allows competitors to survive.


"New research...shows that in some structured communities, organisms increase their chances of survival if they evolve some level of restraint that allows competitors to survive as well, a sort of 'survival of the weakest.' The phenomenon was observed in a community of three 'nontransitive' competitors, meaning their relationship to each other is circular as in the children's game rock-paper-scissors in which scissors always defeats paper, paper always defeats rock and rock always defeats scissors...'By becoming a better competitor in a well-mixed system, it could actually drive itself to extinction,' said Joshua Nahum...The restrained patches, the ones that grew slower, seemed to last longer and the unrestrained patches, the ones that grew faster, burned themselves out faster'...To understand the process, imagine a community of three strains [of bacteria], Rock, Paper and Scissors, and then imagine the emergence of an unrestrained supercompetitor, Rock* (rock star), that is able to displace Scissors even faster than regular Rock can. But that also makes Rock* a better competitor against Rock, the researchers said. Eventually Rock* will be a victim of its own success, being preyed upon by Paper." (Stricherz 2011:1)

Bacteria develop restraint for survival in a rock-paper-scissors community

Journal article
Evolution of restraint in a structured rock-paper-scissors communityProceedings of the National Academy of SciencesOctober 23, 2016
J. R. Nahum, B. N. Harding, B. Kerr

E. ColiEscherichia coliSpecies