Evolutionary ecology of circadian rhythms in malaria parasites
Prior, Kimberley Faith
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Biological rhythms are thought to have evolved to enable organisms to organise their activities according to the Earth’s predictable cycles, but quantifying the fitness advantages of rhythms is challenging and data revealing their costs and benefits are scarce. More difficult still is explaining why parasites that exclusively live within the bodies of other organisms have biological rhythms. Rhythms exist in the development and traits of parasites, in host immune responses, and in disease susceptibility. This raises the possibility that timing matters for how hosts and parasites interact and, consequently, for the severity and transmission of diseases. Despite their obvious importance in other fields, circadian rhythms are a neglected aspect of ecology and evolutionary biology. The ambitions of this thesis are to integrate chronobiology, parasitology and evolutionary theory with mathematical models to obtain a greater understanding about how and suggest why malaria parasites have rhythms as well as the effect of infection on host rhythms. First, I identify how malaria parasites lose their developmental rhythms in culture, when they lack any potential time cues from the host. Next, I characterise parasite rhythms inside the mammalian host in terms of synchrony and timing and demonstrate there is genotype by environment interactions for characteristics of parasite rhythms. Then, I investigate the effect that parasite infection has on host rhythms and show there is variation between parasite genotypes in their effect on host locomotor activity and body temperature rhythms during infections. Finally, I explore which host rhythms may be driving parasite synchrony and timing and demonstrate the importance of peripheral host rhythms for the timing of malaria parasite developmental rhythms. The data presented here provides novel and important information on the role of rhythms during disease and opens up a new arena for studying host-parasite coevolution.