Experimental Evolution of a Bacteriophage Virus Reveals the Trajectory of Adaptation Across a fecundity/longevity Trade-Off

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e46322. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046322. Epub 2012 Oct 12.


Life history theory attempts to account for how organisms lead their lives, balancing the conflicting demands of reproduction and survival. Here, we track the genomic and phenotypic evolution of the bacteriophage virus T7 across a postulated fecundity/longevity constraint. We adapted T7 to a challenging survival environment (6M urea). Our evolved strain displayed a significant improvement in propagule survival, coupled with a significant loss of fecundity (reduced growth rate on host cells). However, the increased resistance to urea did not generalise to increased resistance against temperature stress, highlighting that propagule durability is environment dependent. Previous comparative studies predicted that changes in propagule resistance would be mediated by changes in capsid proteins or gene deletions. In contrast, we found that point mutations in internal core protein genes (6.7 and 16) were responsible for the increased urea resistance of our evolved strain. Prior to the emergence of the 6.7 and 16 mutations, a distinct set of 5-point mutations peaked at over 20% prevalence before attenuating, suggestive of negative epistatic interactions during adaptation. Our results illustrate that parasites can adapt to specific transmission environments, and that this adaptation can impose costs on the subsequent ability to exploit host cells, potentially constraining durable parasites to lower virulence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage T7 / genetics*
  • Bacteriophage T7 / physiology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genes, Viral
  • Point Mutation
  • Polymorphism, Genetic