Bacteriophage migration via nematode vectors: host-parasite-consumer interactions in laboratory microcosms.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology 72:1974-1979.
Year of Publication: 
Dennehy, J.J., N.A. Friedenberg, Y.W. Yang, P.E. Turner.

Pathogens vectored by nematodes pose serious agricultural, economic, and health threats; however, little is known of the ecological and evolutionary aspects of pathogen transmission by nematodes. Here we describe a novel model system with two trophic levels, bacteriophages and nematodes, each of which competes for bacteria. We demonstrate for the first time that nematodes are capable of transmitting phages between spatially distinct patches of bacteria. This model system has considerable advantages, including the ease of maintenance and manipulation at the laboratory bench, the ability to observe many generations in short periods, and the capacity to freeze evolved strains for later comparison to their ancestors. More generally, experimental studies of complex multispecies interactions, host-pathogen coevolution, disease dynamics, and the evolution of virulence may benefit from this model system because current models (e.g., chickens, mosquitoes, and malaria parasites) are costly to maintain, are difficult to manipulate, and require considerable space. Our initial explorations centered on independently assessing the impacts of nematode, bacterium, and phage population densities on virus migration between host patches. Our results indicated that virus transmission increases with worm density and host bacterial abundance; however, transmission decreases with initial phage abundance, perhaps because viruses eliminate available hosts before migration can occur. We discuss the microbial growth dynamics that underlie these results, suggest mechanistic explanations for nematode transmission of phages, and propose intriguing possibilities for future research.