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12 December 2013 1:00 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
The iconic 125-year-old Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, is facing the threat of closure...
Recent results from the Curiosity Mars rover have helped scientists formulate a plan for the next phase of its mission...
A new, remarkably powerful drug that cripples the hepatitis C virus (HCV) came to market last week, but it sells for $...
In pretoothbrush populations, gumlines would often be marred by a thick, visible crust of calcium phosphate, food...
Evolutionary biologists have long studied how the Mexican tetra, a drab fish that lives in rivers and creeks but has...
Victorian astronomers spent countless hours laboriously charting the positions of stars in the sky. Such sky mapping,...
In an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health, researchers are excavating the graveyard of the now...
Stefan Behnisch has won awards for designing science labs and other buildings that are smart, sustainable, and...
- 12 December 2013 1:00 pm , Vol. 342 , #6164
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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.
See more ScienceShots.