An international team of scientists have discovered that cheating and getting away with it lies in a person's genetic make-up.
The research team found that certain individuals are genetically programmed to cheat and will keep going it over and over again, provided they can get away with it.
AdvertisementFor the study, the scientists examined slime moulds, microscopic single-cell organisms or amoebae that are forced to cooperate with one another when food is in short supply.
Studying these slime moulds at the cellular level provided the scientists with an exclusive insight into the genes that may also influence human behaviour.
The international team, including biologists from The University of Manchester, found that some amoebae have the skill to use cheating tactics to give them a better chance of survival.
According to Dr Chris Thompson, in Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences, the study not only shows that cheating is a natural phenomenon administered by our genes but that it may be prevalent among social creatures.
"Slime mould amoebae feed off bacteria in the soil but when food becomes scarce they aggregate to form a fruiting body of some 100,000 cells," Nature quoted Dr Thompson, as saying.
†"Some cells become the spore, while about one-quarter form a stalk. The stalk cells die - they appear to sacrifice themselves to allow the spore cells to be dispersed on the wind to new feeding grounds," he added.
In an earlier study, the same team examined this extraordinary level of cooperation in the hope of gaining an insight into why some cells demonstrated such selfless behaviour. They concluded that the altruistic acts were because of the intolerable cost of non-cooperation, which means that without a trail, no amoebae would escape to new feeding grounds and all would die.
However, the new study has exposed a dark and complex subplot where some cells cheat the system to give themselves a better chance of survival.
And this fatal game must continuously develop as cells find new and better ways of cheating in what is in fact an evolutionary arms race, said Dr Thompson.
†"Social behaviour is an unresolved problem in biology - why would anyone be altruistic and give up something for someone else" he said.
†"Our findings suggest that there is no single answer able to explain our observations but that a number of factors are at play. An analogy can be drawn from people in a sinking boat. If some people cheat by refusing to bail out water they benefit by conserving energy and will last longer as a result.
†"Interestingly, we noted that cheats only cheated in the presence of non-cheaters - when they could get away with not 'bailing water'. When surrounded by other cheaters, they contribute to the group effort again, 'aware' that if no one does, all of them will die," he added.
The study is published in the journal Nature.
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