Phages and the Red Queen

Alex Betts and EEC colleagues have published an article in PNAS, investigating patterns of coevolution of the pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa with various phages. See also here, and here.

Betts, A., O. Kaltz, and M. E. Hochberg. 2014. Contrasted coevolutionary dynamics between a bacterial pathogen and its bacteriophages. Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences U.S.A. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1406763111

Many antagonistic interactions between hosts and their parasites result in coevolution. Although coevolution can drive diversity and specificity within species, it is not known whether coevolutionary dynamics differ among functionally similar species. We present evidence of coevolution within simple communities of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 and a panel of bacteriophages. Pathogen identity affected coevolutionary dynamics. For five of six phages tested, time-shift assays revealed temporal peaks in bacterial resistance and phage infectivity, consistent with frequency-dependent selection (Red Queen dynamics). Two of the six phages also imposed additional directional selection, resulting in strongly increased resistance ranges over the entire length of the experiment (ca. 60 generations). Cross-resistance to these two phages was very high, independent of the coevolutionary history of the bacteria. We suggest that coevolutionary dynamics are associated with the nature of the receptor used by the phage for infection. Our results shed light on the coevolutionary process in simple communities and have practical application in the control of bacterial pathogens through the evolutionary training of phages, increasing their virulence and efficacy as therapeutics or disinfectants.

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