Bacteriocins, spite and virulence

Andy Gardner, Stuart A. West, Angus Buckling

Abstract

There has been much interest in using social evolution theory to predict the damage to a host from parasite infection, termed parasite virulence. Most of this work has focused on how high kinship between the parasites infecting a host can select for more prudent exploitation of the host, leading to a negative relationship between virulence and parasite kinship. However, it has also been shown that if parasites can cooperate to overcome the host, then high parasite kinship within hosts can select for greater cooperation and higher growth rates, hence leading to a positive relationship between virulence and parasite kinship. We examine the impact of a spiteful behaviour, chemical (bacteriocin) warfare between microbes, on the evolution of virulence, and find a new relationship: virulence is maximized when the frequency of kin among parasite's; social partners is low or high, and is minimized at intermediate values. This emphasizes how biological details can fundamentally alter the qualitative nature of theoretical predictions made by models of parasite virulence.