Why is motility so common in bacteria? An obvious answer to this ecological and evolutionary question is that in almost all habitats, bacteria need to go someplace and particularly in the direction of food. Although the machinery required for motility and chemotaxis (acquiring and processing the information needed to direct movement toward nutrients) are functionally coupled in contemporary bacteria, they are coded for by different sets of genes. Moreover, information that resources are more abundant elsewhere in a habitat would be of no value to a bacterium unless it already had the means to get there. Thus, motility must have evolved before chemotaxis, and bacteria with flagella and other machinery for propulsion in random directions must have an advantage over bacteria relegated to moving at the whim of external forces alone. However, what are the selection pressures responsible for the evolution and maintenance of undirected motility in bacteria? Here we use a combination of mathematical modeling and experiments with Escherichia coli to generate and test a parsimonious and ecologically general hypothesis for the existence of undirected motility in bacteria: it enables bacteria to move away from each other and thereby obtain greater individual shares of resources in physically structured environments. The results of our experiments not only support this hypothesis, but are quantitatively and qualitatively consistent with the predictions of our model
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