Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Short-sighted virus evolution and a germline hypothesis for chronic viral infections

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Katrina A. Lythgoe, Andy Gardner, Oliver G. Pybus, Joe Grove

School/Research organisations


With extremely short generation times and high mutability, many viruses can rapidly evolve and adapt to changing environments. This ability is generally beneficial to viruses as it allows them to evade host immune responses, evolve new behaviours, and exploit ecological niches. However, natural selection typically generates adaptation in response to the immediate selection pressures that a virus experiences in its current host. Consequently, we argue that some viruses, particularly those characterised by long durations of infection and ongoing replication, may be susceptible to short-sighted evolution, whereby a virus’ adaptation to its current host will be detrimental to its onward transmission within the host population. Here we outline the concept of short-sighted viral evolution and provide examples of how it may negatively impact viral transmission among hosts. We also propose that viruses that are vulnerable to short-sighted evolution may exhibit strategies that minimise its effects. We speculate on the various mechanisms by which this may be achieved, including viral life history strategies that result in low rates of within-host evolution, or the establishment of a ‘germline’ lineage of viruses that avoids short-sighted evolution. These concepts provide a new perspective on the way in which some viruses have been able to establish and maintain global pandemics.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-348
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Microbiology
Issue number5
Early online date1 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017

    Research areas

  • Virus, Evolution, Transmission

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Resource heterogeneity and the evolution of public-goods cooperation

    Stilwell, P., O'Brien, S., Hesse, E., Lowe, C., Gardner, A. & Buckling, A., 13 Jan 2020, (Accepted/In press) In : Evolution Letters.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. The demography of human warfare can drive sex differences in altruism

    Micheletti, A. J. C., Ruxton, G. D. & Gardner, A., 11 Jan 2020, (Accepted/In press) In : Evolutionary Human Sciences.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Price's equation made clear

    Gardner, A., 4 Jan 2020, (Accepted/In press) In : Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Genomic imprinting as a window into human language evolution

    Hitchcock, T., Paracchini, S. & Gardner, A., Jun 2019, In : BioEssays. 41, 6, 11 p., 1800212.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Quorum sensing and the confusion about diffusion

    West, S. A., Winzer, K., Gardner, A. & Diggle, S. P., Dec 2012, In : Trends in Microbiology. 20, 12, p. 586-594 9 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  2. Evolving complexities of influenza virus and its receptors

    Nicholls, JM., Chan, RWY., Russell, R. J. M., Air, GM. & Peiris, JSM., Apr 2008, In : Trends in Microbiology. 16, p. 149-157 9 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Staphylococcus aureus: superbug, super genome?

    Lindsay, JA. & Holden, MTG., Aug 2004, In : Trends in Microbiology. 12, 8, p. 378-385 8 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  4. New signal molecules on the quorum-sensing block

    Holden, M., Swift, S. & Williams, P., Mar 2000, In : Trends in Microbiology. 8, 3, p. 101-103 3 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

ID: 249337925