Dissecting genetic and sex-specific sources of host heterogeneity in pathogen shedding and spread
Host heterogeneity in disease transmission is widespread but precisely how different host traits drive this heterogeneity remains poorly understood. Part of the difficulty in linking individual variation to population-scale outcomes is that individual hosts can differ on multiple behavioral, physiological and immunological axes, which will together impact their transmission potential. Moreover, we lack well-characterized, empirical systems that enable the quantification of individual variation
... n key host traits, while also characterizing genetic or sex-based sources of such variation. Here we used Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila C Virus as a host-pathogen model system to dissect the genetic and sex-specific sources of variation in multiple host traits that are central to pathogen transmission. Our findings show complex interactions between genetic background, sex, and female mating status accounting for a substantial proportion of variance in lifespan following infection, viral load, virus shedding, and viral load at death. Two notable findings include the interaction between genetic background and sex accounting for nearly 20% of the variance in viral load, and genetic background alone accounting for ~10% of the variance in viral shedding and in lifespan following infection. To understand how variation in these traits could generate heterogeneity in individual pathogen transmission potential, we combined measures of lifespan following infection, virus shedding, and previously published data on fly social aggregation. We found that the interaction between genetic background and sex explained ~12% of the variance in individual transmission potential. Our results highlight the importance of characterising the sources of variation in multiple host traits to understand the drivers of heterogeneity in disease transmission.