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Open Access Research article

Is host-schistosome coevolution going anywhere?

Joanne P Webster12*, Jaya Shrivastava12, Paul J Johnson1 and Lynsey Blair12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3SY, UK.

2 Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, Norfolk Place, London, W2 1PG. UK.

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:91  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-91

Published: 13 June 2007



That pathogens and hosts coevolve is a powerful concept with broad theoretical and applied implications spanning from genetic theory to the medical and veterinary sciences, particularly in the context of infectious disease epidemiology. A substantial body of theory has been developed to explore the likelihood and consequences of coevolution, but few empirical studies have been conducted to test these theories, particularly for indirectly-transmitted pathogen-host systems. We initiated replicate longitudinal host-schistosome co-selection trials under different host genotype combinations: Schistosoma mansoni parasite lines were co-selected with populations of either previously resistant-selected Biomphalaria glabrata host genotypes, or unselected susceptible B. glabrata genotypes, or a mixed population of the two. All parasite lines were also passaged through their obligatory mammalian definitive host at each generation.


We demonstrated variation in, and a reciprocal impact on, the fitness of both host and pathogen phenotype and genotype, an outcome dependent on the combinations of genotypes involved, and evidence of change over time. Most apparent was the observation that parasites appeared to rapidly adapt to those intermediate hosts previously selected for resistance.


Our results illustrate the potential for host-schistosome coevolution and, in particular, suggest that host resistance may be a temporary phenomenon in nature due, in part, to rapid counter-adaptations by parasites.