Reduced fecundity is the cost of cheating in RNA virus Φ6.

Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 271:2275-2282.
Year of Publication: 
Dennehy, J.J., P.E. Turner.

Co-infection by multiple viruses affords opportunities for the evolution of cheating strategies to use intracellular resources. Cheating may be costly, however, when viruses infect cells alone. We previously allowed the RNA bacteriophage F6 to evolve for 250 generations in replicated environments allowing coinfection of Pseudomonas phaseolicola bacteria. Derived genotypes showed great capacity to compete during co-infection, but suffered reduced performance in solo infections. Thus, the evolved viruses appear to be cheaters that sacrifice between-host fitness for within-host fitness. It is unknown, however, which stage of the lytic growth cycle is linked to the cost of cheating. Here, we examine the cost through burst assays, where lytic infection can be separated into three discrete phases (analogous to phage life history): dispersal stage, latent period (juvenile stage), and burst (adult stage). We compared growth of a representative cheater and its ancestor in environments where the cost occurs. The cost of cheating was shown to be reduced fecundity, because cheaters feature a significantly smaller burst size (progeny produced per infected cell) when infecting on their own. Interestingly, latent period (average burst time) of the evolved virus was much longer than that of the ancestor, indicating the cost does not follow a life history trade-off between timing of reproduction and lifetime fecundity. Our data suggest that interference competition allows high fitness of derived cheaters in mixed infections, and we discuss preferential encapsidation as one possible mechanism.