Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Parasites can maintain host diversity

In their recent paper, Morgan et al (2009) look at the role of an antagonistic interaction in promoting coexistence among different hosts. Using a bacteria and phage system (bacterium: Pseudomonas fluorescens and bacteriophage: SBW25Φ2), they determined that in the presence of a coevolving phage, a slower growing, but phage resistant host would persist with a susceptible faster growing host. Without the phage, the better competitor became fixed in experimental lines. This paper did not explicitly demonstrate coevolution between the phage and the bacterial host, however there is previous evidence in this system for reciprocal selection (Buckling and Rainey 2002). The point of this experiment was to demonstrate the cost of parasite resistance.

The authors also presented a second hypothesis that was a little less explicit: "the probability of coexistence would alter through time." This general hypothesis was supported and the authors provided several explanations for the fitness of the resistant mutant changing over time with respect to wild type. They narrow down the field to changes in the cost of resistance and compensatory mutations. Their evidence comparing growth rates from the beginning to the end of the experiment support a change in the cost, but I wasn't completely convinced that this ruled out compensatory mutations.

A disappointing portion of this system is a lack of understanding of the mechanism of phage resistance. This is no fault of the authors, as the paper is just the beginning of an investigation. They have some details about a general reaction (production of "cellulose-like polymer"). It would be very interesting to take this system to the next step and start targeting some genes


Morgan, A. D., R. C. Maclean, and A. Buckling. 2009. Effects of antagonistic coevolution on parasite-mediated host coexistence. J Evolution Biol 22:287-292.

Buckling, A. and Rainey, P.B. 2002. Antagonistic coevolution between a bacterium and a bacteriophage. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B Biol. Sci. 269: 931–936.

MORGAN, A., CRAIG MACLEAN, R., & BUCKLING, A. (2009). Effects of antagonistic coevolution on parasite-mediated host coexistence Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22 (2), 287-292 DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01642.x

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