The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 63: 371 - 382 (2019)

Vol 63, Issue 8-9-10

Special Issue: The Dictyostelium model system

Cooperation and conflict in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum

Published: 11 December 2019

James M. Medina, P.M. Shreenidhi, Tyler J. Larsen, David C. Queller and Joan E. Strassmann*

Department of Biology. Washington University, St. Louis MO, USA


The social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum has provided considerable insight into the evolution of cooperation and conflict. Under starvation, D. discoideum amoebas cooperate to form a fruiting body comprised of hardy spores atop a stalk. The stalk development is altruistic because stalk cells die to aid spore dispersal. The high relatedness of cells in fruiting bodies in nature implies that this altruism often benefits relatives. However, since the fruiting body forms through aggregation there is potential for non-relatives to join the aggregate and create conflict over spore and stalk fates. Cheating is common in chimeras of social amoebas, where one genotype often takes advantage of the other and makes more spores. This social conflict is a significant force in nature as indicated by rapid rates of adaptive evolution in genes involved in cheating and its resistance. However, cheating can be prevented by high relatedness, allorecognition via tgr genes, pleiotropy and evolved resistance. Future avenues for the study of cooperation and conflict in D. discoideum include the sexual cycle as well as the relationship between D. discoideum and its bacterial symbionts. D. discoideum’s tractability in the laboratory as well as its uncommon mode of aggregative multicellularity have established it as a promising model for future studies of cooperation and conflict.


kin selection, kin recognition, arms races, altruism, relatedness

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