Background: Taking as a pattern, the T4 and lambda viruses interacting with each other and with their Gram-negative host, Escherichia coli, a general model is constructed for the evolution of 'gentle' or temperate pathogens. This model is not simply either pure group or kin selection, but probably is common in a variety of host-parasite pairs in various taxonomic groups. The proposed mechanism is that for its own benefit the pathogen evolved ways to protect its host from attack by other pathogens and this has incidentally protected the host. Although appropriate mechanisms would have been developed and excluded related viral species and also other quite different pathogens, the important advance would have been when other individuals of the same species that arrive at the host subsequent to the first infecting one were excluded.
Results: Such a class of mechanisms would not compete one genotype with another, but simply would be of benefit to the first pathogen that had attacked a host organism.
Conclusion: This would tend to protect and extend the life of the host against the detrimental effects of a secondarily infecting pathogen. This leads to the pathogens becoming more temperate via the now favorable co-evolution with its host, which basically protects both host and virus against other pathogens but may cause slowing of the growth of the primary infecting pathogen. Evolution by a 'gentle' strategy would be favored as long as the increased wellbeing of the host also favored the eventual transmission of the early infecting pathogen to other hosts.