Life history trade-offs and relaxed selection can decrease bacterial virulence in environmental reservoirs

Lauri Mikonranta, Ville-Petri Friman, Jouni Laakso

    Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikelVetenskapligPeer review


    Pathogen virulence is usually thought to evolve in reciprocal selection with the host. While this might be true for obligate pathogens, the life histories of opportunistic pathogens typically alternate between within-host and outside-host environments during the infection-transmission cycle. As a result, opportunistic pathogens are likely to experience conflicting selection pressures across different environments, and this could affect their virulence through life-history trait correlations. We studied these correlations experimentally by exposing an opportunistic bacterial pathogen Serratia marcescens to its natural protist predator Tetrahymena thermophila for 13 weeks, after which we measured changes in bacterial traits related to both anti-predator defence and virulence. We found that anti-predator adaptation (producing predator-resistant biofilm) caused a correlative attenuation in virulence. Even though the direct mechanism was not found, reduction in virulence was most clearly connected to a predator-driven loss of a red bacterial pigment, prodigiosin. Moreover, life-history trait evolution was more divergent among replicate populations in the absence of predation, leading also to lowered virulence in some of the ‘predator absent’ selection lines. Together these findings suggest that the virulence of non-obligatory, opportunistic bacterial pathogens can decrease in environmental reservoirs through life history trade-offs, or random accumulation of mutations that impair virulence traits under relaxed selection.
    TidskriftPLoS One
    Sidor (från-till)e43801
    Antal sidor9
    StatusPublicerad - 2012
    MoE-publikationstypA1 Tidskriftsartikel-refererad

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