The advantage of mutual help is threatened by defectors, who exploit the benefits provided by others without providing benefits in return. Cooperation can only be sustained if it is preferentially channeled toward cooperators and away from defectors. But how? A deceptively simple idea is to distinguish cooperators from defectors by tagging them. It clearly is in the interest of cooperators to use some distinctive cue to assort with their like. Such an assortment, however, conflicts with the interests of the cheaters, who have every incentive to also acquire that tag. This makes for an inherently unstable situation. The history of evolutionary thinking on this issue is long. An article in this issue of PNAS by Antal et al. opens new ground by providing an in-depth analysis of a selection-mutation model.
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