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THE EFFECT OF ELEVATED MUTATION RATES ON THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION AND VIRULENCE OF PSEUDOMONAS AERUGINOSA

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Abstract

Within-host competition between parasite genotypes can play an important role in the evolution of parasite virulence. For example, competition can increase virulence by imposing selection for parasites that replicate at a faster absolute rate within the host, but may also decrease virulence by selecting for faster relative growth rates through social exploitation of conspecifics. For many parasites, both outcomes are possible. We investigated how competition affected the evolution of virulence of the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa in caterpillar hosts, over the course of an approximately 60 generation selection experiment. We initiated infections with clonal populations of either wild-type bacteria or an isogenic mutant with an approximately 100-fold higher mutation rate, resulting in low and high between-genotype competition, respectively. We observed the evolution of increased virulence, growth rate, and public goods cheating (exploitation of extracellular iron scavenging siderophores produced by ancestral populations) in mutator but not wild-type, populations. We conclude increases in absolute within-host growth rates appear to be more important than social cheating in driving virulence evolution in this experimental context.

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