Malaria parasites in the host replicate asexually and, during each replication cycle, some asexuals transform into sexual stages that enable between-host transmission. It is not understood why the rate of conversion to sexual stages varies during infections despite its importance for the severity and spread of the disease. We combined a mathematical model and experiments to show that parasites adjust conversion rates depending on changes in their in-host population size. When population sizes plummet, between-host transmission is prioritised. However, smaller losses in number elicit reproductive restraint, which facilitates in-host survival and future transmission. We show that increased and decreased conversion in response to a range of in-host environments are actually part of one continuum: a sophisticated reproductive strategy similar to that of multicellular organisms.
Schneider, Petra; Greischar, Megan A; Birget, Philip L G; Repton, Charlotte; Mideo, Nicole; Reece, Sarah E. (2018). Adaptive plasticity in the gametocyte conversion rate of malaria parasites, [dataset]. University of Edinburgh. https://doi.org/10.7488/ds/2460.