A Model for Evolutionary Ecology of Disease: The Case for Caenorhabditis Nematodes and Their Natural Parasites.

Amanda K. Gibson, Levi T. Morran


Many of the outstanding questions in disease ecology and evolution call for combining observation of natural host– parasite populations with experimental dissection of interactions in the field and the laboratory. The ‘‘rewilding’’ of model systems holds great promise for this endeavor. Here, we highlight the potential for development of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and its close relatives as a model for the study of disease ecology and evolution. This powerful laboratory model was disassociated from its natural habitat in the 1960s. Today, studies are uncovering that lost natural history, with several natural parasites described since 2008. Studies of these natural Caenorhabditis –parasite interactions can reap the benefits of the vast array of experimental and genetic tools developed for this laboratory model. In this review, we introduce the natural parasites of C. elegans characterized thus far and discuss resources available to study them, including experimental (co)evolution, cryopreservation, behavioral assays, and genomic tools. Throughout, we present avenues of research that are interesting and feasible to address with caenorhabditid nematodes and their natural parasites, ranging from the maintenance of outcrossing to the community dynamics of host-associated microbes. In combining natural relevance with the experimental power of a laboratory supermodel, these fledgling host–parasite systems can take on fundamental questions in evolutionary ecology of disease.


bacteria; Caenorhabditis ; coevolution; evolution and ecology of infectious dise ase; experimental evolution; fungi; host–parasite interactions; immunology; micr obiome; microsporidia; virus

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