Metabolism and the evolution of social behavior

Kerry Boyle’s PhD paper is out today. It’s still in the early-view, unformatted version but it is now officially published!

In this paper we addressed a fundamental question: Why do organisms of many species seem to change their behavior toward others depending on their internal metabolic state? To investigate this problem at an ultimate level we carried experiments with swarming Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterial model of social behavior. Experiments with bacteria allowed us to alter the metabolic state genetically and to determine—with a level of detail that would be difficult in more complex model organisms—how those changes influenced the evolution of social social behavior.

Our paper uses a combination of experimental evolution, molecular microbiology, whole-genome sequencing and is—to the best of our knowledge—the first to use metabolomics to investigate the role of metabolism in the evolution of a social behavior. This was only possible thanks to our collaborators at Kyu Rhee‘s lab, experts in microbial metabolomics.


The implications go beyond P. aeruginosa: Natural selection favors organisms that can regulate their social behaviors and reduce their fitness cost-to-benefit ratio. Metabolism—currency of all physiological processes—is a very obvious away that social genes have to modulate the cost of a behavior; metabolism should influence social behavior in all organisms, including ourselves. For a review on genes and social behavior see Robinson et al, 2008, Science.

Metabolism and the evolution of social behavior
Kerry E. Boyle, Hilary T. Monaco, Maxime Deforet, Jinyuan Yan, Zhe Wang, Kyu Rhee and Joao Xavier. Molecular Biology and Evolution
[Open Access]

Watch a video abstract made by Natalie Anselmi:

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