Life in cells, hosts, and vectors: parasite evolution across scales

Nicole Mideo (March 22, 2012)

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Parasite evolution is increasingly being recognized as one of the most important challenges in applied evolutionary biology. Understanding how parasites maximize fitness whilst facing the diverse challenges of living in cells, hosts, and vectors, is central to disease control and offers a novel testing ground for evolutionary theory. Along with Sam Brown, I recently hosted a symposium to address the question "How do parasites maximise fitness across a range of biological scales?". The symposium brought together researchers whose work looks across scales and environments to understand why and how parasites 'do what they do', tying together mechanism, evolutionary explanations, and public health implications. I will report on some of the fascinating research that suggests that understanding the evolution of parasite traits � and the diseases they cause � often requires an appreciation that parasite lives are complex and forces outwith focal host-parasite interactions can shape their traits. I will also highlight an existing theoretical framework for studying parasite evolution, which should provide a useful starting point for embracing this complexity.