Role of evolved host breadth in the initial emergence of an RNA virus.

Evolution 64: 3273-3286.
Year of Publication: 
Turner, P.E., N.M. Morales, B.W. Alto, S.K. Remold.

Understanding how evolution promotes pathogen emergence would aid disease management, and prediction of future host shifts. Increased pathogen infectiousness of different hosts may occur through direct selection, or fortuitously via indirect selection. However, it is unclear which type of selection tends to produce host breadth promoting pathogen emergence. We predicted that direct selection for host breadth should foster emergence by causing higher population growth on new hosts, lower among population variance in growth on new hosts, and lower population variance in growth across new hosts. We tested the predictions using experimentally evolved vesicular stomatitis virus populations, containing groups of host-use specialists, directly selected generalists, and indirectly selected generalists. In novel-host challenges, viruses directly selected for generalism showed relatively higher or equivalent host growth, lower among-population variance in host growth, and lower population variance in growth across hosts. Thus, two of three outcomes supported our prediction that directly selected host breadth should favor host colonization. Also, we observed that indirectly selected generalists were advantaged over specialist viruses, indicating that fortuitous changes in host breadth may also promote emergence. We discuss evolution of phenotypic plasticity versus environmental robustness in viruses, virus avoidance of extinction, and surveillance of pathogen niche breadth to predict future likelihood of emergence.