Table of Contents
International Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume 2012, Article ID 396165, 12 pages
Review Article

What Can Phages Tell Us about Host-Pathogen Coevolution?

1Biology Department, Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, NY 11367, USA
2The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA

Received 7 September 2012; Accepted 13 October 2012

Academic Editor: Stephane Boissinot

Copyright © 2012 John J. Dennehy. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The outcomes of host-parasite interactions depend on the coevolutionary forces acting upon them, but because every host-parasite relation is enmeshed in a web of biotic and abiotic interactions across a heterogeneous landscape, host-parasite coevolution has proven difficult to study. Simple laboratory phage-bacteria microcosms can ameliorate this difficulty by allowing controlled, well-replicated experiments with a limited number of interactors. Genetic, population, and life history data obtained from these studies permit a closer examination of the fundamental correlates of host-parasite coevolution. In this paper, I describe the results of phage-bacteria coevolutionary studies and their implications for the study of host-parasite coevolution. Recent experimental studies have confirmed phage-host coevolutionary dynamics in the laboratory and have shown that coevolution can increase parasite virulence, specialization, adaptation, and diversity. Genetically, coevolution frequently proceeds in a manner best described by the Gene for Gene model, typified by arms race dynamics, but certain contexts can result in Red Queen dynamics according to the Matching Alleles model. Although some features appear to apply only to phage-bacteria systems, other results are broadly generalizable and apply to all instances of antagonistic coevolution. With laboratory host-parasite coevolutionary studies, we can better understand the perplexing array of interactions that characterize organismal diversity in the wild.