The model helps explain the rules that govern the transmission of microbes and how they have operated in human history, says Martin J. Blaser, M.D., New York University School of Medicine. Through the course of human evolution, Blaser proposes that three classes of persistent microbes have evolved, each employing a different biological strategy to avoid being eliminated quickly by their human hosts. Tuberculosis (TB), Helicobacter pylori, and Salmonella are an example of each class. Any microbe that was “cheating” the system, in other words, tried to expand its territory in the body, wouldn’t survive because it would likely kill its host.

According to their theory, small populations select for certain kinds of microbial agents. More than 50,000 years ago, when humans lived as hunter-gatherers in small, isolated groups, the majority of microbes were transmitted within families or were those that would emerge late in life. Microbes that were not lethal were favored because there wasn’t a large reservoir of people to infect. Any microbe that killed off its hosts, wouldn’t have survived itself. Helicobacter pylori evolved during this time.

As population size increased and humans became less isolated, organisms that had perfected ways to hide in the body for decades, such as TB and Salmonella typhi, and then suddenly reactivate or get transmitted, evolved. These organisms could afford to induce more disease early in life because they had mechanisms to sustain themselves in human populations.

As even larger societies developed, more virulent organisms, such as measles, emerged because the population could permit the virus to spread. Our most recent epidemics, including influenza in the early 20th century and AIDS today, involve organisms that can kill millions because these highly virulent organisms have a huge pool of people to infect, and still be transmitted.

MEDICA.de; Source: New York University