Unconstrained coevolution of bacterial size and the latent period of plastic phage

Juan A. Bonachela, Melinda Choua, Michael R. Heath

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1 Citation (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Viruses play critical roles in the dynamics of microbial communities. Lytic viruses, for example, kill significant fractions of autotrophic and heterotrophic microbes daily. The dynamic interplay between viruses and microbes results from an overlap of physiological, ecological, and evolutionary responses: environmental changes trigger host physiological changes, affecting the ecological interactions of host and virus and, ultimately, the evolutionary pressures influencing the two populations. Recent theoretical work studied how the dependence of viral traits on host physiology (viral plasticity) affects the evolutionarily stable host cell size and viral infection time emerging from coevolution. Here, we broaden the scope of the framework to consider any coevolutionary outcome, including potential evolutionary collapses of the system. We used the case study of Escherichia coli and T-like viruses under chemostat conditions, but the framework can be adapted to any microbe-virus system. Oligotrophic conditions led to smaller, lower-quality but more abundant hosts, and infections that were longer but produced a reduced viral offspring. Conversely, eutrophic conditions resulted in fewer but larger higher-quality hosts, and shorter but more productive infections. The virus influenced host evolution decreasing host size more noticeably for low than for high dilution rates, and for high than for low nutrient input concentration. For low dilution rates, the emergent infection time minimized host need/use, but higher dilution led to an opportunistic strategy that shortened the duration of infections. System collapses driven by evolution resulted from host failure to adapt quickly enough to the evolving virus. Our results contribute to understanding the eco-evolutionary dynamics of microbes and virus, and to improving the predictability of current models for host-virus interactions. The large quantitative and qualitative differences observed with respect to a classic description (in which viral traits are assumed to be constant) highlights the importance of including viral plasticity in theories describing short- and long-term host-virus dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0268596
Number of pages20
JournalPLOS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2022


  • bacteriophage
  • viral plasticity
  • eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • coevolution
  • host-virus model


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