Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 29924883
Mol. Ecol. 2018 Jun;
Genetically similar cells of the soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus cooperate at multiple social behaviours, including motility and multicellular development. Another social interaction in this species is outer membrane exchange (OME), a behaviour of unknown primary benefit in which cells displaying closely related variants of the outer membrane protein TraA transiently fuse and exchange membrane contents. Functionally incompatible TraA variants do not mediate OME, which led to the proposal that TraA incompatibilities determine patterns of intercellular cooperation in nature, but how this might occur remains unclear. Using natural isolates from a centimetre-scale patch of soil, we analyse patterns of TraA diversity and ask whether relatedness at TraA is causally related to patterns of kin discrimination in the form of both colony-merger incompatibilities (CMIs) and interstrain antagonisms. A large proportion of TraA functional diversity documented among global isolates is predicted to be contained within this cm-scale population. We find evidence of balancing selection on the highly variable PA14-portion of TraA and extensive transfer of traA alleles across genomic backgrounds. CMIs are shown to be common among strains identical at TraA, suggesting that CMIs are not generally caused by TraA dissimilarity. Finally, it has been proposed that interstrain antagonisms might be caused by OME-mediated toxin transfer. However, we predict that most strain pairs previously shown to exhibit strong antagonisms are incapable of OME due to TraA dissimilarity. Overall, our results suggest that most documented patterns of kin discrimination in a natural population of M. xanthus are not causally related to the TraA sequences of interactants.