Predicting optimal transmission investment in malaria parasites

Megan A. Greischar, Nicole Mideo, Andrew F. Read, Ottar N. Bjørnstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In vertebrate hosts, malaria parasites face a tradeoff between replicating and the production of transmission stages that can be passed onto mosquitoes. This tradeoff is analogous to growth-reproduction tradeoffs in multicellular organisms. We use a mathematical model tailored to the life cycle and dynamics of malaria parasites to identify allocation strategies that maximize cumulative transmission potential to mosquitoes. We show that plastic strategies can substantially outperform fixed allocation because parasites can achieve greater fitness by investing in proliferation early and delaying the production of transmission stages. Parasites should further benefit from restraining transmission investment later in infection, because such a strategy can help maintain parasite numbers in the face of resource depletion. Early allocation decisions are predicted to have the greatest impact on parasite fitness. If the immune response saturates as parasite numbers increase, parasites should benefit from even longer delays prior to transmission investment. The presence of a competing strain selects for consistently lower levels of transmission investment and dramatically increased exploitation of the red blood cell resource. While we provide a detailed analysis of tradeoffs pertaining to malaria life history, our approach for identifying optimal plastic allocation strategies may be broadly applicable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1542-1558
Number of pages17
JournalEvolution; international journal of organic evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Predicting optimal transmission investment in malaria parasites'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this