On the Origin of Cooperation

By Elizabeth Pennisi | Science Mag

"Cooperation has created a conundrum for generations of evolutionary scientists. If natural selection among individuals favors the survival of the fittest, why would one individual help another at a cost to itself? Charles Darwin himself noted the difficulty of explaining why a worker bee would labor for the good of the colony, because its efforts do not lead to its own reproduction. The social insects are "one special difficulty, which first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to my theory," he wrote in On the Origin of Species.

And yet cooperation and sacrifice are rampant in nature. Humans working together have transformed the planet to meet the needs of billions of people. Countless examples of cooperation exist between species: Cleaner fish pick parasites off larger fish, and nitrogen-fixing bacteria team up with plants, to name just a few.

In some cases, cooperation has fueled key evolutionary transitions, helping to create integrated systems. Worker ants have no offspring of their own and instead feed their queen's offspring in colonies often considered "superorganisms" many thousands of individuals strong. Cells managed to specialize and stay together, giving rise to multicellular organisms. "At each of those levels, formerly independent reproductive units and targets of selection become integrated into a single reproductive unit and target of selection," notes biologist James Hunt of North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh."

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Image from Flickr Creative Commons.

Posted:  by ajstasic
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