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Evolutionary Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases

Final Report Summary - EVOLEPID (Evolutionary Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases)

The spread and the evolution of infectious diseases are threatening human health, agriculture and wildlife conservation. A better understanding of pathogen dynamics is a necessary first step towards better control strategies. A first objective of the EVOLEPID project was to develop and extend the framework of evolutionary epidemiology theory. We studied the interplay between multiple factors (migration, mutation, selection) on the epidemiology and evolution of pathogens in heterogeneous environments. In particular we explored the interplay between multilocus genetics and pathogen adaptation to drugs and vaccines. This general framework can be used to explore many different scenarios and will help predict the epidemiological and evolutionary consequences of therapeutic interventions. A second objective of the EVOLEPID project was to use the evolutionary epidemiology framework to study experimentally the evolution and ecology of two new model systems. First, we worked on avian malaria system to study the ecology and evolution of Plasmodium. This malaria model allows to work with natural combinations of parasites, vectors and hosts. We demonstrated that malaria parasites evolved very elaborate strategies to maximize transmission (manipulation of vector behavior, plastic replication strategies in the bird). No doubt that this animal model will play a key role in future malaria research. Second, we used bacteriophages to put some our theoretical predictions to the test. In particular we studied the transient evolution of pathogen evolution of virulence during epidemics. We also studied the effect of spatial structure on both the evolution of pathogen virulence and host resistance. The EVOLEPID project allowed us to work at the interface between different fields of research (epidemiology, population genetics, life-history evolution, parasitology, microbiology). This multidisciplinary approach has been very fruitful and has allowed us to demonstrate experimentally that evolutionary epidemiology theory can be a very useful tool to understand and predict pathogen dynamics.