Caister Academic Press

Evolution of Viral Virulence: Empirical Studies

Gael Kurath and Andrew R. Wargo
from: Virus Evolution: Current Research and Future Directions (Edited by: Scott C. Weaver, Mark Denison, Marilyn Roossinck and Marco Vignuzzi). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2016) Pages: 155-214.


The concept of virulence as a pathogen trait that can evolve in response to selection has led to a large body of virulence evolution theory developed in the 1980-1990s. Various aspects of this theory predict increased or decreased virulence in response to a complex array of selection pressures including mode of transmission, changes in host, mixed infection, vector-borne transmission, environmental changes, host vaccination, host resistance, and co-evolution of virus and host. A fundamental concept is prediction of trade-offs between the costs and benefits associated with higher virulence, leading to selection of optimal virulence levels. Through a combination of observational and experimental studies, including experimental evolution of viruses during serial passage, many of these predictions have now been explored in systems ranging from bacteriophage to viruses of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrate hosts. This chapter summarizes empirical studies of viral virulence evolution in numerous diverse systems, including the classic models myxomavirus in rabbits, Marek's disease virus in chickens, and HIV in humans. Collectively these studies support some aspects of virulence evolution theory, suggest modifications for other aspects, and show that predictions may apply in some virus:host interactions but not in others. Finally, we consider how virulence evolution theory applies to disease management in the field read more ...
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