The University of Arizona
With deep regret we wish to let visitors to this web site know that our colleague Rafe Sagarin has died and while we are keeping the web site in his memory it is no longer being updated. If you have any questions please contact :



All organisms experience limits to how far they can adapt with the body and brains and physiology they were born with. But they can stretch out this adaptive ability by engaging in symbiotic relationships with other organisms.  These other organisms can help them get food, defend themselves, provide shelter, and rid themselves of parasites.


We tend to think of cooperation in very narrow terms in society. We may assume that it only occurs between two parties that extract equal benefit from the exchange. But nature shows us that cooperation occurs in all sorts of situations between all sorts of organisms. 

These relationships are rarely perfect mutualisms in which both parties see equal benefits, but if each party does better than it would on its own, the symbiotic relationship may continue. Often these relationships occur between organisms, like sharks and much smaller fish, that would seem to have no reason to cooperate. Where are we letting our prejudices about another group, another nation, or even other agencies within our own government, keep us from pursuing beneficial symbioses?


New types of symbiotic partnerships between the most unlikely of collaborators are developing and ameliorating potential security crises around the globe. My colleague Terence Taylor, for example, has helped incubate symbiotic partnerships between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, as well as practitioners from five traditionally hostile countries on the Mekong River, all working together to identify and neutralize disease outbreaks on whatever side of borders they occur.

Several features of these cooperative networks should be recognized.

First, the networks have demonstrated success even beyond the feat of getting members of mutually hostile nations to work with one another. Network practitioners were quietly allowed into notoriously restricted Myanmar to do their work days, not weeks, after the catastrophic cyclone there.

Second, these networks weren’t mandated by high levels of government or through international treaties, but have emerged from the ground up as local, adaptive responses to a real need to protect regional food supplies and human health from pathogens that know no borders.

Third, the networks were not designed to tackle the much larger and complex issues of creating peace between their member states, though they very well may be an opening to further peace agreements. Finally, the networks greatly expand the capacity of any individual member state, giving them a built-in impetus to continue—without the network, each individual state would not only be powerless over outbreaks in neighboring states, but would also be much less capable of tackling diseases within its own borders.

Symbiotic partnerships between US soldiers in Iraq and local political leaders, first authorized under General Petraeus’ strategy, provided major dividends in the war there as local leaders increasingly provided tips to soldiers about the activities of IED making networks.