Rapid evolution of microbe-mediated protection against pathogens in a worm host.
King KC., Brockhurst MA., Vasieva O., Paterson S., Betts A., Ford SA., Frost CL., Horsburgh MJ., Haldenby S., Hurst GD.
Microbes can defend their host against virulent infections, but direct evidence for the adaptive origin of microbe-mediated protection is lacking. Using experimental evolution of a novel, tripartite interaction, we demonstrate that mildly pathogenic bacteria (Enterococcus faecalis) living in worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) rapidly evolved to defend their animal hosts against infection by a more virulent pathogen (Staphylococcus aureus), crossing the parasitism-mutualism continuum. Host protection evolved in all six, independently selected populations in response to within-host bacterial interactions and without direct selection for host health. Microbe-mediated protection was also effective against a broad spectrum of pathogenic S. aureus isolates. Genomic analysis implied that the mechanistic basis for E. faecalis-mediated protection was through increased production of antimicrobial superoxide, which was confirmed by biochemical assays. Our results indicate that microbes living within a host may make the evolutionary transition to mutualism in response to pathogen attack, and that microbiome evolution warrants consideration as a driver of infection outcome.