What is a pathogen? Toward a process view of host-parasite interactions

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Until quite recently and since the late 19(th) century, medical microbiology has been based on the assumption that some micro-organisms are pathogens and others are not. This binary view is now strongly criticized and is even becoming untenable. We first provide a historical overview of the changing nature of host-parasite interactions, in which we argue that large-scale sequencing not only shows that identifying the roots of pathogenesis is much more complicated than previously thought, but also forces us to reconsider what a pathogen is. To address the challenge of defining a pathogen in post-genomic science, we present and discuss recent results that embrace the microbial genetic diversity (both within- and between-host) and underline the relevance of microbial ecology and evolution. By analyzing and extending earlier work on the concept of pathogen, we propose pathogenicity (or virulence) should be viewed as a dynamical feature of an interaction between a host and microbes.

This content has been updated on 7 November 2019 at 11 h 24 min.