October 1, 2013

Survival of the most cooperative?

by Christine Hoekenga

Cooperation can also be a driver of evolution.

Cooperation can also drive evolution, as in the case of cells developing certain organelles through endosymbiosis. Image courtesy: Daryl I (Flickr CC)

In discussions of evolution, the phrase “survival of the fittest” is uttered so often that it would be easy to assume competition among organisms is the only driver of evolutionary change.  But in fact, cooperation among organisms can be just as important to evolutionary advances.

Visionlearning’s new biology module, Cellular Organelles I: Membrane-bound Organelles, explores how major steps in cell evolution were the result of cooperation, rather than competition.  The module tells of the story of how scientists pieced together evidence–from simple observations to DNA analysis–to understand how cells developed organelles (specialized structures within a cell that perform certain functions–similar to organs in our own bodies).

The story is a fascinating look both through the microscope at cells themselves and back through history at the lines of research that ultimately led scientists to the theory of endosymbiosis–the idea that modern-day cells’ energy producers (mitochondria and chloroplasts) are actually the descendants of ancient bacteria-like organisms that began living inside other simple cells two or three billion years ago.

Check out the new module, and please let us know what you think by posting comments here!

For more about cells and how they work, read our module The Discovery and Structure of Cells.

For more on DNA, check out our three-part series: DNA I: The Genetic MaterialDNA II: The Structure of DNA, and DNA III: The Replication of DNA.


Christine Hoekenga

Written by

Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.