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Front Microbiol. 2015 Oct 19;6:1120. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01120. eCollection 2015.

The out-of-the-delta hypothesis: dense human populations in low-lying river deltas served as agents for the evolution of a deadly pathogen.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta , Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Centre for Communicable Diseases, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research , Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), Dhaka, Bangladesh.


Cholera is a diarrheal disease that has changed the history of mankind, devastating the world with seven pandemics from 1817 to the present day. Although there is little doubt in the causative agent of these pandemics being Vibrio cholerae of the O1 serogroup, where, when, and how this pathogen emerged is not well understood. V. cholerae is a ubiquitous coastal species that likely existed for tens of thousands of years. However, the evolution of a strain capable of causing a large-scale epidemic is likely more recent historically. Here, we propose that the unique human and physical geography of low-lying river deltas made it possible for an environmental bacterium to evolve into a deadly human pathogen. Such areas are often densely populated and salt intrusion in drinking water frequent. As V. cholerae is most abundant in brackish water, its favored environment, it is likely that coastal inhabitants would regularly ingest the bacterium and release it back in the environment. This creates a continuous selection pressure for V. cholerae to adapt to life in the human gut.


Vibrio cholerae; cholera; delta; epidemic; evolution; pandemic; pathogen; salt intrusion

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