THE POPULATION BIOLOGY OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE: PERSPECTIVES FOR PLANT PATHOLOGY
Department of Botany, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
The basic study of the population biology of infectious disease provides a rich and invaluable backdrop that plant pathologists can use to increase their understanding of the systems they are studying, forge new research approaches and influence strategic decisions about where research funding is most likely to pay dividends in improved crop protection. While the use of model systems, such as Arabidopsis, has become an accepted and highly successful component of the applied research enterprise in molecular biology, the use of model systems in an evolutionary and ecological context is much less appreciated.
The population biologist, freed from an urgent focus on a specific disease problem, has the luxury to study how plant pathogen systems work in nature, has the time to ask questions that cross interdisciplinary lines and is free to use tractable model systems, even distantly related taxa, to address areas of ignorance, develop techniques and generate understanding pre-emptively.
I will use examples from our work with the anther-smut disease (Microbotryum violaceum) of the Caryophyllaceae (mostly species of Silene) to illustrate how a general study of infectious disease impinges on applied aspects of biological control, on understanding pathogenesis in the smut-fungi and on the interpretation of pathogen population structure and evolution. I will also show how broadening our sphere of academic interactions to include animal and human disease epidemiologists can reap rich conceptual and practical dividends.