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The production of diffusible molecules that promote survival and growth is common in bacterial and eukaryotic cell populations, and can be considered a form of cooperation between cells. While evolutionary game theory shows that producers and non-producers can coexist in well-mixed populations, there is no consensus on the possibility of a stable polymorphism in spatially structured populations where the effect of the diffusible molecule extends beyond one-step neighbours. I study the dynamics of biological public goods using an evolutionary game on a lattice, taking into account two assumptions that have not been considered simultaneously in existing models: that the benefit of the diffusible molecule is a non-linear function of its concentration, and that the molecule diffuses according to a decreasing gradient. Stable coexistence of producers and non-producers is observed when the benefit of the molecule is a sigmoid function of its concentration, while strictly diminishing returns lead to coexistence only for very specific parameters and linear benefits never lead to coexistence. The shape of the diffusion gradient is largely irrelevant and can be approximated by a step function. Since the effect of a biological molecule is generally a sigmoid function of its concentration (as described by the Hill equation), linear benefits or strictly diminishing returns are not an appropriate approximations for the study of biological public goods. A stable polymorphism of producers and non-producers is in line with the predictions of evolutionary game theory and likely to be common in cell populations.
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