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The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Primers provide a concise introduction into an important aspect of biology highlighted by a current

Microorganisms have been cooperating with each other for billions of years: by sharing resources, communicating with each other, and joining together to form biofilms and other large structures. These cooperative behaviors benefit the colony as a whole; however, they may be costly to the individuals performing them. This raises the question of how such cooperation can arise from natural selection. Mathematical modeling is one important avenue for exploring this question. Evolutionary experiments are another, providing us with an opportunity to see evolutionary dynamics in action and allowing us to test predictions arising from mathematical models. A new study in this issue of

There are two basins of attraction, with a different outcome expected from each. If there are too few cooperators to start, not enough simple sugars are produced and the population collapses. On the other hand, if the initial number of cooperators is sufficient, the system converges in spiraling fashion to an equilibrium in which cooperators and cheaters coexist.

Interestingly, the proportion of cooperators in the coexistence equilibrium is low—less than 10%—but is nonetheless sufficient to maintain the viability of the population. Does the predominance of cheaters in this equilibrium hurt the population as a whole? The authors found that the overall density and productivity of the population in the coexistence equilibrium is not much less than what cooperators would achieve in the absence of cheaters. However, the predominance of cheaters does impact the population's resilience to an ecological shock—in this case, rapid and significant dilution of the population. Cooperators in monomorphic equilibrium survive this shock, but populations in mixed equilibrium between cooperators and cheaters do not. In short, mixed populations are comparably productive to, but significantly less resilient than, cooperator-only populations.

The study of Sanchez and Gore illustrates the synergistic power of theory and experiment when carefully combined. The opportunities for further such combinations are immense. Population genetics and evolutionary game theory have provided us with a wealth of testable hypotheses about evolution, and we now have the experimental technology to test them. Some of the most interesting hypotheses regard the effect of spatial structure on the evolution of cooperation. Well-known results in evolutionary game theory show that spatial structure can promote cooperation

At the same time, we must also allow experimental results to inform the development of new mathematical models. The field of social bacterial evolution requires well-defined, simple models that describe how populations of bacteria change over time, taking into account the reproductive events, social interactions, and population structures particular to these populations. This approach ultimately brings together the methods of population genetics, evolutionary game theory, ecology, and experimental microbiology.