Co-operation in bacteria

Co-operation is a key area studied in game theory. The Battle of the Sexes, Stag Hunt and Prisoner’s Dilemma games all study co-operation in different ways.

One fascinating example of co-operation occurs in nature with the bacteria Vibrio Fischeri. This bacteria’s unusual ability is that it is able to produce light.

They co-operate on two levels.

Firstly, they co-operate with their host animal, usually a squid or fish. The bacteria provide light for the host and the host provides the bacteria with food.

Secondly, they co-operate with each other. The bacteria only produce light when there is enough of them to produce enough light to make a difference. They do this through something call quorum sensing.


Producing light when there are only a few bacteria together is a waste of precious resources. The strategy to only produce light when there is enough bacteria to make a difference is evolutionary superior to an un-coordinated strategy.

Today’s takeaway: Does your strategy have critical mass, or are you lighting a match to light up a cave?

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