Expression of parasite genetic variation changes over the course of infection: implications of within-host dynamics for the evolution of virulence

Melanie Clerc, Dieter Ebert, Matthew David Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


How infectious disease agents interact with their host changes during the course of infection and can alter the expression of disease-related traits. Yet by measuring parasite life-history traits at one or few moments during infection, studies have overlooked the impact of variable parasite growth trajectories on disease evolution. Here we show that infection-age-specific estimates of host and parasite fitness components can reveal new insight into the evolution of parasites. We do so by characterizing the within-host dynamics over an entire infection period for five genotypes of the castrating bacterial parasite Pasteuria ramosa infecting the crustacean Daphnia magna. Our results reveal that genetic variation for parasite-induced gigantism, host castration and parasite spore loads increases with the age of infection. Driving these patterns appears to be variation in how well the parasite maintains control of host reproduction late in the infection process. We discuss the evolutionary consequences of this finding with regard to natural selection acting on different ages of infection and the mechanism underlying the maintenance of castration efficiency. Our results highlight how elucidating within-host dynamics can shed light on the selective forces that shape infection strategies and the evolution of virulence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1 - 8
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1804
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Cite this