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Pages 23-24
First published 30 July 2014

Constrained genetic architecture promotes cooperation

Antoine Frénoy, François Taddei, and Dusan Misevic

Abstract (Excerpt)

Cooperation in nature often has direct costs but only indirect benefits. Kin and group selection theories comprehensively address its evolutionary origins, but our knowledge of the precise genetic mechanisms that prevent cheater invasion and maintain cooperation is incomplete. Here we review our published work on cooperation in Aevol, an agent-based, in silico genomic platform used to evolve and study populations of digital organisms that compete, reproduce, and cooperate by secreting a public good. Motivated by the observation of phenotypically identical individuals who had radically different evolutionary fates, we recorded and compared gene locations, effectively performing bio-inspired genomics analyses of our digital organisms. We found that the association between metabolic and secretion genes (promoter sharing, overlap via frame shift or sense-antisense encoding) was characteristic for populations with robust, stable cooperation. Such architecture arose de novo during the evolution of cooperation, but only when producing the public good was costly. Effectively, cooperation evolved to be protected and maintained through constrained, entangled genetic architecture. Beyond confirming the importance of second-order selection, we uncover a novel genetic mechanism for the evolution and maintenance of cooperation. Our results suggest a method to limit the evolutionary potential of synthetically engineered organisms, in order to reduce the change or loss of synthetic gene circuits, a major issue in synthetic biology.