PerspectiveEvolution

Evolving resistance to pathogens

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Science  22 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6433, pp. 1277-1278
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw8710

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Summary

In the 1950s, myxoma virus (MV) was intentionally released in Europe and Australia to control rabbit populations. A striking biological phenomenon ensued: The rate at which MV killed rabbits (i.e., quantitative virulence) declined rapidly—viral mutations that killed hosts more slowly spread faster by lengthening the period during which infected rabbits transmit MV before dying. Similarly, increased resistance to MV evolved in rabbits (1). This natural experiment has become the textbook example of the evolutionary dynamics of virulence, widely used to illustrate how a trade-off between transmission rate and transmission time prior to host death limits pathogen adaptation. Yet, the mechanisms through which rabbits developed resistance to MV have been arguably neglected. On page 1319 of this issue, Alves et al. (2) present a uniquely broad genomic analysis of MV resistance evolution in rabbits in France, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The results shift the narrative on the evolution of resistance, showing that parallel evolution occurred among Australian and European rabbits and took the form of polygenic changes that boosted antiviral immunity.

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