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The division of labour is a central feature of the most sophisticated biological systems, including genomes, multicellular organisms and societies, which took millions of years to evolve. Here we show that a well-organized and robust division of labour can evolve in a matter of days. Mutants emerge within bacterial colonies and work with the parent strain to gain new territory. The two strains self-organize in space: one provides a wetting polymer at the colony edge, whereas the other sits behind and pushes them both along. The emergence of the interaction is repeatable, bidirectional and only requires a single mutation to alter production of the intracellular messenger, cyclic-di-GMP. Our work demonstrates the power of the division of labour to rapidly solve biological problems without the need for long-term evolution or derived sociality. We predict that the division of labour will evolve frequently in microbial populations, where rapid genetic diversification is common.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Bacteria, Bacterial Proteins, Biological Evolution, Cyclic GMP, Frameshift Mutation, Microbial Interactions, Pseudomonas fluorescens