The Origin of Specificity by Means of Natural Selection: Evolved and Nonhost Resistance in Host-Pathogen Interactions

Evolution. 2013 Jan;67(1):1-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01793.x. Epub 2012 Sep 24.


Most species seem to be completely resistant to most pathogens and parasites. This resistance has been called "nonhost resistance" because it is exhibited by species that are considered not to be part of the normal host range of the pathogen. A conceptual model is presented suggesting that failure of infection on nonhosts may be an incidental by-product of pathogen evolution leading to specialization on their source hosts. This model is contrasted with resistance that results from hosts evolving to resist challenge by their pathogens, either as a result of coevolution with a persistent pathogen or as the result of one-sided evolution by the host against pathogens that are not self-sustaining on those hosts. Distinguishing evolved from nonevolved resistance leads to contrasting predictions regarding the relationship between resistance and genetic distance. An analysis of cross-inoculation experiments suggests that the resistance is often the product of pathogen specialization. Understanding the contrasting evolutionary origins of resistance is critical for studies on the genetics and evolution of host-pathogen interactions in human, agricultural, and natural populations. Research on human infectious disease using animal models may often study resistances that have quite contrasting evolutionary origins, and therefore very different underlying genetic mechanisms.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Host Specificity / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Infections / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic*