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Rapid evolution of microbe-mediated protection against pathogens in a worm host

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  • Kayla C King
  • Michael A Brockhurst
  • Olga Vasieva
  • Steve Paterson
  • Alex Betts
  • Suzanne A Ford
  • Crystal L Frost
  • Malcolm J Horsburgh
  • Sam Haldenby
  • Gregory DD Hurst


Publication details

JournalThe ISME Journal
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Dec 2015
DatePublished (current) - 15 Mar 2016
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)1915–1924
Original languageEnglish


Microbes can defend their host against virulent infections, but direct evidence for the adaptive origin of microbe-mediated protection is lacking. Using experimental evolution of a novel, tripartite interaction, we demonstrate that mildly pathogenic bacteria (Enterococcus faecalis) living in worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) rapidly evolved to defend their animal hosts against infection by a more virulent pathogen (Staphylococcus aureus), crossing the parasitism-mutualism continuum. Host protection evolved in all six, independently selected populations in response to within-host bacterial interactions and without direct selection for host health. Microbe-mediated protection was also effective against a broad spectrum of pathogenic S. aureus isolates. Genomic analysis implied that the mechanistic basis for E. faecalis-mediated protection was through increased production of antimicrobial superoxide, which was confirmed by biochemical assays. Our results indicate that microbes living within a host may make the evolutionary transition to mutualism in response to pathogen attack, and that microbiome evolution warrants consideration as a driver of infection outcome.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 15 March 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.259.

Bibliographical note

© 2016 International Society for Microbial Ecology

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