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Experimental evolution of a fungal pathogen into a gut symbiont

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 589-595
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat0537

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Gut microbiota selects fungi

Fungi, such as Candida albicans, are found in the mammalian gut, but we know little about what they are doing there. Tso et al. put C. albicans under evolutionary pressure by serial passage in mice that were treated with antibiotics and were thus lacking gut bacteria (see the Perspective by d'Enfert). Passage accelerated fungal mutation, especially around the FLO8 gene, resulting in low-virulence phenotypes unable to form hyphae. Nevertheless, these phenotypes stimulated proinflammatory cytokines and conferred transient cross-protection against several other gut inhabitants. However, if an intact microbiota was present, only the virulent hyphal forms persisted.

Science, this issue p. 589; see also p. 523

Abstract

Gut microbes live in symbiosis with their hosts, but how mutualistic animal-microbe interactions emerge is not understood. By adaptively evolving the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans in the mouse gastrointestinal tract, we selected strains that not only had lost their main virulence program but also protected their new hosts against a variety of systemic infections. This protection was independent of adaptive immunity, arose as early as a single day postpriming, was dependent on increased innate cytokine responses, and was thus reminiscent of “trained immunity.” Because both the microbe and its new host gain some advantages from their interaction, this experimental system might allow direct study of the evolutionary forces that govern the emergence of mutualism between a mammal and a fungus.

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