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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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ScienceShot: Why Bacteria Commit Suicide
19 March 2013 8:01 pm
Suicide is an evolutionary puzzle. Why should an organism kill itself when it could be having offspring? Now, researchers have shown that in bacteria, suicide can be worthwhile—and has no major downside. Scientists compared two strains of Escherichia coli bacteria, one that self-destructs when infected with a lethal virus and one that doesn’t. An infected bacterium not only dies but also serves as an incubator for some 300 new virus particles, unless it kills itself first. When the researchers seeded a batch of the suicidal bacteria with the virus, the bacteria thrived, they report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. That’s because infected individuals self-destructed before they could spread the virus to others. A batch of the nonsuicidal bacteria, however, perished when infected. When both kinds of bacteria and the virus were mixed together under varying conditions, the suicidal strain fared better (as seen in the image, showing green colonies of the suicidal strain to be unscathed, while pink colonies of the nonsuicidal strain have been nibbled away by the virus). That shows there’s no significant cost to suicidal tendencies. After all, infected bacteria are too feeble to reproduce, the researchers point out. So for these microbes, at least, the old song is right: Suicide is painless, as well as a blessing to one’s neighbors.
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