Brotherly bugs:
Well the word is out.  Playing Kissy with the relatives SCIENCE vol. 342 no. 6163 December 6, 2013 page 1147 reviewing Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 10.1038/nsmb.2699 (2013) shows that bacteria also have a preference for mating with kin when, indeed, they do mate.  I’ve always heard that the general rule in bacteria is that they multiply by dividing.  They form clones, pure and simple.  There was once a hint that when they did divide, one daughter was a continuation of the old one while the other was somehow a little different.  But by and large asexual division was the rule. 

Oh, yes.  They can exchange bits of genetic information.  They can exchange it with bacteria of different species.  That’s important when you consider antibiotic resistance.  Once bacterium can develop resistance by chance and it spreads to the offspring, and if the antibiotic is present in the environment – say a person – then the offspring have a selective advantage.  But other bacteria have a chance and the relevant code, too.

I’m not really sure that “develop” is the right word.  “Recover” resistance might be better in some cases.  After all, antibiotics appeared in things like bread mold to suppress bacterial growth and give the mold more of the loot.  So bacteria have been dealing with antibiotics a long time and have had occasion in the past to develop ways of dealing with them. 

I’d heard of mold cells getting together to form common reproductive structures, but this is the first time I recall it happening in bacteria, several groups apparently although not all.  Anyway, the bacteria given the chance will form fruiting bodies with relatives.  Myxococcus xanthus have surface receptor TraA that the bacteria can recognize as indicating kinship.  Lacking kin they may settle for strangers.

It’s most surprising to me.  My whole notion about kinship and fertility was based on the assumption of sexual reproduction.  But it appears to be more basic than that. 

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