Pedro Vale shows how host heterogeneity determines disease dynamics
Host heterogeneity in pathogen transmission is widespread and presents a major hurdle to predicting and minimizing disease outbreaks. For example, superspreaders are individuals that contribute disproportionately to disease spread, making outbreak prediction unreliable when information on host heterogeneity is lacking and one has to rely on modelling the average transmission. Part of the difficulty in linking individual variation to population-scale outcomes is that hosts can vary on multiple axes (e.g., behavioural, physiological, immunological) that affect their transmission potential.
Using Drosophila melanogaster infected with Drosophila C virus as a model system, Branco Weiss Alumnus Pedro Vale and collaborators have now been able to demonstrate that individual host variation in host infectiousness, social aggregation, and infection duration is sufficient to drive striking differences in the likelihood, severity, and duration of disease outbreaks. The team comprising Pedro Vale’s group at the University of Edinburgh and researchers from the University of Minnesota were further able to identify the sources of host heterogeneity (i.e., genetic background, sex) and the specific host traits that are most important in determining disease dynamics. This research has partly been funded by The Branco Weiss Fellowship. The findings have been published recently by Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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