The Sit-and-Wait Hypothesis in Bacterial Pathogens: A Theoretical Study of Durability and Virulence

Liang Wang, Zhanzhong Liu, Shiyun Dai, Jiawei Yan, Michael J. Wise

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    14 Citations (Scopus)


    The intriguing sit-and-wait hypothesis predicts that bacterial durability in the external environment is positively correlated with their virulence. Since its first proposal in 1987, the hypothesis has been spurring debates in terms of its validity in the field of bacterial virulence. As a special case of the vector-borne transmission versus virulence tradeoff, where vector is now replaced by environmental longevity, there are only sporadic studies over the last three decades showing that environmental durability is possibly linked with virulence. However, no systematic study of these works is currently available and epidemiological analysis has not been updated for the sit-and-wait hypothesis since the publication of Walther and Ewald's (2004) review. In this article, we put experimental evidence, epidemiological data and theoretical analysis together to support the sit-and-wait hypothesis. According to the epidemiological data in terms of gain and loss of virulence (+/-) and durability (+/-) phenotypes, we classify bacteria into four groups, which are: sit-and-wait pathogens (+ +), vector-borne pathogens (+ -), obligate-intracellular bacteria (- -), and free-living bacteria (- +). After that, we dive into the abundant bacterial proteomic data with the assistance of bioinformatics techniques in order to investigate the two factors at molecular level thanks to the fast development of high-throughput sequencing technology. Sequences of durability-related genes sourced from Gene Ontology and UniProt databases and virulence factors collected from Virulence Factor Database are used to search 20 corresponding bacterial proteomes in batch mode for homologous sequences via the HMMER software package. Statistical analysis only identified a modest, and not statistically significant correlation between mortality and survival time for eight non-vector-borne bacteria with sit-and-wait potentials. Meanwhile, through between-group comparisons, bacteria with higher host-mortality are significantly more durable in the external environment. The results of bioinformatics analysis correspond well with epidemiological data, that is, non-vector-borne pathogens with sit-and-wait potentials have higher number of virulence and durability genes compared with other bacterial groups. However, the conclusions are constrained by the relatively small bacterial sample size and non-standardized experimental data.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2167
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
    Issue numberNOV
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2017


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