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PLoS Pathog. 2013 Mar;9(3):e1003209. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003209. Epub 2013 Mar 14.

Evolution of virulence in emerging epidemics.

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Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE) - UMR 5175, Montpellier, France.


Theory predicts that selection for pathogen virulence and horizontal transmission is highest at the onset of an epidemic but decreases thereafter, as the epidemic depletes the pool of susceptible hosts. We tested this prediction by tracking the competition between the latent bacteriophage λ and its virulent mutant λcI857 throughout experimental epidemics taking place in continuous cultures of Escherichia coli. As expected, the virulent λcI857 is strongly favored in the early stage of the epidemic, but loses competition with the latent virus as prevalence increases. We show that the observed transient selection for virulence and horizontal transmission can be fully explained within the framework of evolutionary epidemiology theory. This experimental validation of our predictions is a key step towards a predictive theory for the evolution of virulence in emerging infectious diseases.

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