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Evolution. 2005 Apr;59(4):730-9.

An empirical study of the evolution of virulence under both horizontal and vertical transmission.

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Department of Biology, Graduate Program in Population Biology Ecology and Evolution, Emory University, 1510 Clifton Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


According to current thinking, a parasite's transmission mode will be a major determinant of virulence, defined as the harm induced by parasites to their hosts. With horizontal transmission, virulence will increase as a byproduct of a trade-off between fitness gained through increased among-host transmission (infectivity) and fitness lost through increased virulence. With vertical transmission, virulence will decrease because a parasite's reproductive potential will be maximized only by decreasing harm to the host, allowing parasite transmission to more host offspring. To test both predictions, we transmitted barley stripe mosaic virus (BSMV) horizontally and then vertically in its host, barley (Hordeum vulgare). After four generations of horizontal transmission, we observed a nearly twofold increase in horizontal infectivity and nearly tripled virulence. After three generations of subsequent vertical transmission, we observed a modest (16%) increase in vertical transmissibility and a large (40%) reduction in virulence. Increased horizontal transmission is often due to increased pathogen replication which, in turn, causes increased virulence. However, we found no correlation between within-host virus concentration and virulence, indicating that the observed changes in virulence were not due to changes in viral titer. Finally, horizontally transmitted BSMV had reduced vertical transmission and vertically transmitted BSMV had reduced horizontal infectivity. These two observations suggest that, in nature, in different host populations with varying opportunities for horizontal and vertical transmission, different viral strains may be favored.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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