The Role of Nutrition and Social Behaviour in Infection Outcomes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP


The three 'major phases' of pathogen infection are: i) establishment within the host, ii) persistence within the host, and iii) transmission between hosts. Host and pathogen social behaviours have been shown to influence some of these phases. From the pathogen perspective, cooperative behaviours (benefit to both the actor and recipient of the behaviour) can contribute to successful establishment and persistence within the host. These phases may be affected by cheats (benefit from cooperative behaviours without cooperating themselves or cooperating less). We have little understanding, however of the role of pathogen social behaviour in transmission between host individuals, and thus in epidemics. From the host perspective, it has been shown that social behaviours may impact contact rates with pathogens and increase the chances of establishment. Given this cost of social behaviour in an infectious environment, it is unknown to what extent social behaviours and their evolution can be shaped by host-pathogen interactions. I aim to fill these gaps by exploring the evolutionary interaction between social behaviour and infectious disease from both the host and pathogen perspectives. I will take an experimental evolution approach using nematode species Caenorhabditis elegans as a host and the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa as a pathogen. Specifically, I will consider: 1) How do the social traits of pathogens affect the three 'major phases' of infection? 2) How do pathogens affect the evolution of host social behaviour? Taken together, these two approaches will allow me to expand the current evolutionary framework on the interplay between social behaviour of host and pathogen in infectious disease.

BBSRC priority areas:
Considering host-pathogen interactions in an invertebrate model system this project combines two key BBSRC research themes: 'Integrative animal and plant biology' and 'Mechanistic Molecular and Cellular Bioscience'.


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Pike V (2019) On the diverse and opposing effects of nutrition on pathogen virulence in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011224/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1945667 Studentship BB/M011224/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 Victoria Louise Pike