Host clonality and parasite virulence strategies

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology

Primary Supervisor:

Beth Okamura

Life Sciences, NHM

Secondary Supervisor:

Carl Sayer

Geography, UCL

Project Description:

Many organisms develop as colonies that fragment, spreading the colony genotype over space and time. Such persistence and amplification of a genetically homogenous resource may influence parasite virulence strategies – yet, surprisingly, this remains poorly examined.

Freshwater bryozoans are common but overlooked colonial invertebrates that fragment and produce asexual seed-like statoblasts. We now know that myxozoan endoparasites exploit bryozoans, undergoing vertical transmission (VT) to statoblasts and colony fragments, and achieving occasional horizontal transmission (HT) to secondary fish hosts.

This project will expand on these preliminary insights to examine VT of myxozoans in a broad range of bryozoan hosts to address the following:

1) Does VT occur generally?

2) Does VT vary in space and time and with host genotype?

3) How might variation in VT influence HT to fish?

The research would entail extensive fieldwork and laboratory studies, including microscopy and molecular techniques to detect infections and to genotype hosts.

Policy Impact of Research:

The research would demonstrate the general importance of VT as a strategy for exploiting highly clonal hosts.

Intraspecific variation in VT would suggest ongoing interactions involving selection for host exploitation and for parasite resistance.

Myxozoans are poorly known, thus new species and hosts (bryozoans and fish) will likely be identified.

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