When Laziness Pays: Math explains how cooperation and cheating evolve

10:43am, January 12, 2005

Researchers have proposed a solution to a long-standing evolutionary conundrum: Why do populations of identical organisms sometimes split into two strains, cooperators and cheaters?

Cooperation and cheating, inescapable parts of human existence, also occur in a wide range of other creatures, down to the tiniest. For instance, in a yeast population, some cells produce the enzymes required to digest sugars, while other cells mooch off their enzyme-producing fellows.

Since all the yeast cells live in the same environment, why are some cooperators and others cheaters? For decades, researchers have struggled to explain how such dichotomies arise. Now, a trio of mathematicians and zoologists has proposed a model for the split.

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