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Persistence pays: how viruses promote host group survival


Recently, we have realized that viruses numerically dominate all life. Although viruses are known to affect host survival in populations, this has not been previously evaluated in the context of host group selection. Group selection per se is not a currently accepted idea and its apparent occurrence is explained by statistical gene frequency models of kin selection. Viruses were not considered in such models. Prevalent views associate viruses and disease. Yet many viruses establish species-specific persistent, inapparent infections that are stable on an evolutionary time scale. Such persistent infections can have large effects on relative reproductive fitness of competing host populations. In this essay, I present arguments on how persistent infections can promote population survival. Mouse hepatitis virus is used as well studied examplar to re-evaluate the theoretical basis of the mouse haystack model of M Smith. This virus-centric re-examination concludes that viruses can indeed affect and promote relative group selection.

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