In nature organisms fight for survival. When resources are limited, this fight may get tough. In this competition for resources the structure (geometry, topology) of the environment plays a crucial role. The other important component of the competition is the particular strategies the organisms follow.
We culture bacteria in microfabricated devices that model some geometrical aspects of the natural environment (e. g. “patchiness”). A network of chambers and channels lead to the formation of an ensemble of interacting local populations (metapopulation phenomena). When different bacteria with different strategies are present (e.g mutants or different strains) the competition between their population can be studied. These artificial micro-scale ecosystems reveal information not only about the bacteria themselves but also about the fundamental rules guiding the dynamics of ecosystems in general.
Based on their behavior we can assign general strategies to different bacteria. For example, ‘cooperator’ and ‘cheater’ mutants be created. We can use game theory to describe and model such competition experiments. Some basic game types such as the prisoner’s dilemma or the rock-paper-scissor game can be realized in our microfluidic chips.
This effort is the experimental counterpart to our theoretical program on cooperation, integration and multicellulariry.