Symbiosis and pathogenesis: evolution of the microbe-host interaction

Naturwissenschaften. 2000 Jan;87(1):1-11. doi: 10.1007/s001140050001.


Symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria have in common that they live in or on host organisms or host cells. To make a successful living in eukaryotic hosts, bacteria must possess the traits to recognize a given host and establish adherence. When the bacterial location is internal or intracellular, they must further have the ability to invade, to establish a niche, and finally to multiply within a host. The underlying mechanisms which allow this form of existence show similarities between symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria. The final outcome, however, may result in a wide spectrum of consequences for the host ranging from the acquisition of novel metabolic pathways to damage or death. Despite the vastly different forms of interactions, symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria have in common that they are adapted to a particular environmental niche represented by the host organism or compartment thereof. This contribution reviews the evolutionary forces which have shaped the microbial-host interactions. Particular emphasis is placed on the genetic and molecular mechanisms that drive bacterial evolution in response to the selective pressures of the host environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Symbiosis*