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Heterogeneous Host Susceptibility Enhances Prevalence of Mixed-Genotype Micro-Parasite Infections

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002097

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Dose response in micro-parasite infections is usually shallower than predicted by the independent action model, which assumes that each infectious unit has a probability of infection that is independent of the presence of other infectious units. Moreover, the prevalence of mixed-genotype infections was greater than predicted by this model. No probabilistic infection model has been proposed to account for the higher prevalence of mixed-genotype infections. We use model selection within a set of four alternative models to explain high prevalence of mixed-genotype infections in combination with a shallow dose response. These models contrast dependent versus independent action of micro-parasite infectious units, and homogeneous versus heterogeneous host susceptibility. We specifically consider a situation in which genome differences between genotypes are minimal, and highly unlikely to result in genotype-genotype interactions. Data on dose response and mixed-genotype infection prevalence were collected by challenging fifth instar Spodoptera exigua larvae with two genotypes of Autographa californica multicapsid nucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV), differing only in a 100 bp PCR marker sequence. We show that an independent action model that includes heterogeneity in host susceptibility can explain both the shallow dose response and the high prevalence of mixed-genotype infections. Theoretical results indicate that variation in host susceptibility is inextricably linked to increased prevalence of mixed-genotype infections. We have shown, to our knowledge for the first time, how heterogeneity in host susceptibility affects mixed-genotype infection prevalence. No evidence was found that virions operate dependently. While it has been recognized that heterogeneity in host susceptibility must be included in models of micro-parasite transmission and epidemiology to account for dose response, here we show that heterogeneity in susceptibility is also a fundamental principle explaining patterns of pathogen genetic diversity among hosts in a population. This principle has potentially wide implications for the monitoring, modeling and management of infectious diseases.


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