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Trends Ecol Evol. 1996 Feb;11(2):79-82.

Sex against virulence: the coevolution of parasitic diseases.

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NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College at Silwood Park, Ascot, Berks, UK SL5 7PY; Institut für Zoologie, Universität Basel, Rheinsprung 9, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland.


Reciprocal selection is the underlying mechanism for host-parasite coevolutionary arms races. Its driving force is the reduction of host lifespan or fecundity that is caused by a parasite. Parasites evolve to optimize host exploitation, while hosts evolve to minimize the 'parasite-induced' loss of fitness (virulence). Research on the evolution of virulence has mostly emphasized the role of parasite evolution in determining virulence. However, host evolution, accelerated by sexual recombination, contributes to the evolution and expression of virulence as well. The Red Queen hypothesis predicts that genetic variation among host offspring facilitates selection for reduced virulence. Here, we outline a synthesis between current thinking about the evolution of virulence and the evolution of sex.

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