SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

SUMMARY

The term virulence has a conflicting history among plant pathologists. Here we define virulence as the degree of damage caused to a host by parasite infection, assumed to be negatively correlated with host fitness, and pathogenicity the qualitative capacity of a parasite to infect and cause disease on a host. Selection may act on both virulence and pathogenicity, and their change in parasite populations can drive parasite evolution and host–parasite co-evolution. Extensive theoretical analyses of the factors that shape the evolution of pathogenicity and virulence have been reported in last three decades. Experimental work has not followed the path of theoretical analyses. Plant pathologists have shown greater interest in pathogenicity than in virulence, and our understanding of the molecular basis of pathogenicity has increased enormously. However, little is known regarding the molecular basis of virulence. It has been proposed that the mechanisms of recognition of parasites by hosts will have consequences for the evolution of pathogenicity, but much experimental work is still needed to test these hypotheses. Much theoretical work has been based on evidence from cellular plant pathogens. We review here the current experimental and observational evidence on which to test theoretical hypotheses or conjectures. We compare evidence from viruses and cellular pathogens, mostly fungi and oomycetes, which differ widely in genomic complexity and in parasitism. Data on the evolution of pathogenicity and virulence from viruses and fungi show important differences, and their comparison is necessary to establish the generality of hypotheses on pathogenicity and virulence evolution.