Variation, sex, and social cooperation: Molecular population genetics of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum

Jonathan M. Flowers, Si I. Li, Angela Stathos, Gerda Saxer, Elizabeth A. Ostrowski, David C. Queller, Joan E. Strassmann, Michael D. Purugganan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dictyostelium discoideum is a eukaryotic microbial model system for multicellular development, cell-cell signaling, and social behavior. Key models of social evolution require an understanding of genetic relationships between individuals across the genome or possibly at specific genes, but the nature of variation within D. discoideum is largely unknown. We re-sequenced 137 gene fragments in wild North American strains of D. discoideum and examined the levels and patterns of nucleotide variation in this social microbial species. We observe surprisingly low levels of nucleotide variation in D. discoideum across these strains, with a mean nucleotide diversity (π) of 0.08%, and no strong population stratification among North American strains. We also do not find any clear relationship between nucleotide divergence between strains and levels of social dominance and kin discrimination. Kin discrimination experiments, however, show that strains collected from the same location show greater ability to distinguish self from non-self than do strains from different geographic areas. This suggests that a greater ability to recognize self versus non-self may arise among strains that are more likely to encounter each other in nature, which would lead to preferential formation of fruiting bodies with clonemates and may prevent the evolution of cheating behaviors within D. discoideum populations. Finally, despite the fact that sex has rarely been observed in this species, we document a rapid decay of linkage disequilibrium between SNPs, the presence of recombinant genotypes among natural strains, and high estimates of the population recombination parameter ρ. The SNP data indicate that recombination is widespread within D. discoideum and that sex as a form of social interaction is likely to be an important aspect of the life cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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