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Developmental plasticity and the evolution of parasitism in an unusual nematode, Parastrongyloides trichosuri

Author(s): Stasiuk Susan J | Scott Maxwell J | Grant Warwick N

Journal: EvoDevo
ISSN 2041-9139

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Abstract Background Parasitism is an important life history strategy in many metazoan taxa. This is particularly true of the Phylum Nematoda, in which parasitism has evolved independently at least nine times. The apparent ease with which parasitism has evolved amongst nematodes may, in part, be due to a feature of nematode development acting as a pre-adaptation for the transition from a free-living to a parasitic life history. One candidate pre-adaptive feature for evolution in terrestrial nematodes is the dauer larva, a developmentally arrested morph formed in response to environmental signals. Results We investigated the role of dauer development in the nematode, Parastrongyloides trichosuri, which has retained a complete free-living life cycle in addition to a life cycle as a mammalian gastrointestinal parasite. We show that the developmental switch between these life histories is sensitive to the same environmental cues as dauer arrest in free-living nematodes, including sensitivity to a chemical cue produced by the free-living stages. Furthermore, we show that genetic variation for the sensitivity of the cue(s) exists in natural populations of P. trichosuri, such that we derived inbred lines that were largely insensitive to the cue and other lines that were supersensitive to the cue. Conclusions For this parasitic clade, and perhaps more widely in the phylum, the evolution of parasitism co-opted the dauer switch of a free-living ancestor. This lends direct support to the hypothesis that the switch to developmental arrest in the dauer larva acted as a pre-adaptation for the evolution of parasitism, and suggests that the sensory transduction machinery downstream of the cue may have been similarly co-opted and modified.
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