Microbes are present everywhere- in the air, soil and even inside the human body. Although these microbes are ubiquitous, they interact with each other in complicated ways that are not well understood. Some microbes exist in complex communities where the exchange of molecules and proteins is vital for their survival. These microbes trade the essential resources to promote their own growth in ways that are similar to countries that exchange goods in modern economic markets.
Researchers from Claremont Graduate University, Boston University and Columbia University applied the general equilibrium theory of economics, which explains the exchange of resources in complex economies, to understand the trade of resources in these microbial communities. The research teams experimented with a synthetic consortium of Escherichia coli cells. The scientists manipulated the cells' DNA to artificially alter the production and export rate of the cells, and then tested the population growth implications of the theory.
The results suggested that as trade increased, the bacterial communities grew faster. While all the microbes benefited from trade, the more a bacteria strain exported, the slower it grew relative to the importing bacteria strain. Joshua Tasoff, economics professor at Claremont Graduate University, said, "That means that species face a trade off between growing their communities faster versus increasing their own population relative to that of a trading partner. The results open the door for the application of other economic concepts that could improve our understanding of microbial and other biological communities."
The results are published in PLOS ONE.