WiSPA: A new approach for dealing with widespread parasitism

Traditionally, studies of coevolving systems have considered cases where a parasite may inhabit only a single host. The case where a parasite may infect many hosts, widespread parasitism, has until recently gained little traction... This is due in part to the computational complexity involved in reconstructing the coevolutionary histories where parasites may infect only a single host, which is NP-Hard. Allowing parasites to inhabit more than one host has been seen to only further compound this computationally intractable problem. Recently however, well-established algorithms for estimating the problem instance where a parasite may infect only a single host have been extended to handle widespread parasites. Although this has offered significant progress, it has been noted that these algorithms poorly handle parasites that inhabit phylogenetically distant hosts. In this work we extend these previous algorithms to handle cases where parasites inhabit phylogenetically distant hosts using an additional evolutionary event which we call spread. Our new framework is shown to infer significantly more congruent coevolutionary histories compared to existing methods over both synthetic and biological data sets. We then apply the newly proposed algorithm, which we call WiSPA (WideSpread Parasitism Analyser), to the well studied coevolutionary system of Primates and Enterobius (pinworms), where existing methods have been unable to reconcile the widespread parasitism present without permitting additional divergence events. Using WiSPA and the new biological event, spread, we provide the first statistically significant coevolutionary hypothesis for this system. read more

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