Research Shows Microbes Are Savvy Traders
A closer look at microbes reveals
there is big business going on in their very small world, and sometimes we are
part of the transaction.
An international team of researchers,
including NAU Northern Arizona University scientist Nancy Collins Johnson, argue in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
that microbes, like many animals, can evolve into savvy traders, selling high
and buying low.
“Although hidden from the naked eye,
microorganisms are active in complex networks of trade, swapping nutrients,
hoarding resources, and bartering deals, using many of the same strategies
humans use to dominate markets,” Johnson said. “While we know such ‘biological
markets’ exist in nature between cognitive organisms—for example, when primates
groom each other in exchange for food—it is difficult to imagine markets emerging
on a micron-scale.”
Yet all organisms, including humans,
cooperate with beneficial microbes. “For example, our gut bacteria give us
vitamins and nutrients and are crucial to our well-being,” Johnson said.
Microbes also cooperate with plants.
Johnson and the other authors discuss diverse economic strategies employed by
microbes, including avoiding bad trading partners, saving for a rainy day, and
building local business ties.
The paper, “Evolution of Microbial
Markets,” arose from a working group of scientists at the Lorentz Center in
Leiden, The Netherlands, in January 2012. Johnson, a professor in the School of
Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability and the Department of
Biological Sciences, was invited to participate in the workshop during her
sabbatical while she was a Fulbright Scholar living in Prague.
--courtesy of NAU Public Affairs