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Mark O. Martin

The real issue, over and over, is self versus nonself. Look at the issue of "cheaters" in Greg Velicer's work with myxobacters.

Travisano, M. and G.J. Velicer (2004). "Strategies of microbial cheater control." Trends Microbiol. 12: 72 - 78.

"Cheating" applies to all kind of microbe-microbe interactions, after all.

I haven't actually sat down and done the experiment, but does a given strain of Bdellovibrio "prefer" other bacteria to its sibs? Interesting question, but it remains important to keep in mind that what we "set up" in the laboratory does not reflect the natural situation very closely. It reminds me very much of my old system of Sinorhizobium meliloti and alfalfa---mutant bacteria added to bare roots on agar, and drawing conclusions about nodulation effects. The lab found out a great deal, but the interplay of the diverse rhizosphere microbiota is a tough nut to crack. Hence my thinking about "cheaters."

The "dead hand" of Darwin is ever with us. And to borrow from J.B.S. Haldane, I don't believe that the microbial world is merely stranger than we imagine. It is stranger than we can imagine.

I particularly appreciate seeing references here to "old" papers that genome-philes may have missed. The most important instrument in a laboratory is not a fancy qPCR thermocycler, but eyes and brain. This paper reminds me of that principle:

Shuman, H.A. (2003). "Just toothpicks and logic: how some labs succeed at solving complex problems." J. Bacteriol. 185: 387 - 390 (with three cheers for Jon Beckwith, who, like Elio and several other posters here, has forgotten more than I will ever know about microbial genetics).

Oh...and happy Thanksgiving to all microphiles, near and far.

Elio, I am vacationing with my family in Long Beach, Washington, and thought of you when I saw not one but two "mushroom hunting" guides in the gift shop of our hotel. Well, I am actually grading papers, but you know what I mean.

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