Viruses in conflict: Run, hide, or transmit?
With extremely short generation times and high mutability, many viruses can rapidly evolve and adapt to changing environments. This ability is generally beneficial to viruses as it allows them to evade host immune responses, evolve new behaviours and exploit ecological niches. However, natural selection typically generates adaptation in response to the immediate selection pressures that a virus experiences in its current host. Consequently, I argue that some viruses, particularly those characterised by long durations of infection and ongoing replication, may be susceptible to short-sighted evolution, whereby a virus’ adaptation to its current host will be detrimental to its onward transmission within the host population. I will outline the concept of short-sighted viral evolution and provide examples of how it may negatively impact viral transmission among hosts. I also propose that viruses that are vulnerable to short-sighted evolution may exhibit strategies that minimise its effects, and describe the various mechanisms by which this may be achieved. These include viral life history strategies that result in low rates of within-host evolution, and the establishment of a ‘germline’ lineage of viruses that avoids short-sighted evolution. These concepts provide a new perspective on the way in which some viruses have been able to establish and maintain global pandemics.