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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Kin discrimination and possible cryptic species in the social amoeba Polysphondylium violaceum

Sara E Kalla*, David C Queller, Andrea Lasagni and Joan E Strassmann

Author Affiliations

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, MS-170, 6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77005, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-31

Published: 27 January 2011



The genetic diversity of many protists is unknown. The differences that result from this diversity can be important in interactions among individuals. The social amoeba Polysphondylium violaceum, which is a member of the Dictyostelia, has a social stage where individual amoebae aggregate together to form a multicellular fruiting body with dead stalk cells and live spores. Individuals can either cooperate with amoebae from the same clone, or sort to form clonal fruiting bodies. In this study we look at genetic diversity in P. violaceum and at how this diversity impacts social behavior.


The phylogeny of the ribosomal DNA sequence (17S to 5.8S region) shows that P. violaceum is made up of at least two groups. Mating compatibility is more common between clones from the same phylogenetic group, though matings between clones from different phylogenetic groups sometimes occurred. P. violaceum clones are more likely to form clonal fruiting bodies when they are mixed with clones from a different group than when they are mixed with a clone of the same group.


Both the phylogenetic and mating analyses suggest the possibility of cryptic species in P. violaceum. The level of divergence found within P. violaceum is comparable to the divergence between sibling species in other dictyostelids. Both major groups A/B and C/D/E/F show kin discrimination, which elevates relatedness within fruiting bodies but not to the level of clonality. The diminished cooperation in mixes between groups suggests that the level of genetic variation between individuals influences the extent of their cooperation.