Host radiation refers to the ability of parasites to adapt to new environments and expand or change their niches. Adaptation to one specific environment may involve a loss in adaptation to a second environment. Thus, fitness costs may impose limits to niche expansion and constitute the cost of specialization. Several reports have addressed the cost of host radiation in vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), but in some cases the experimental setup may have resulted in the overestimation of fitness costs. To clarify this issue, experiments were carried out in which a reference strain of VSV was allowed to adapt to HeLa, MDCK and BHK-21 cells, and to a regime of alternation between HeLa and Madin–Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells. Measurement of viral fitness on each cell type showed that most virus populations behaved as generalists, and increased in fitness in all environments. Tradeoffs, where a fitness increase in one environment led to a fitness decrease in another environment, were rare. These results highlight the importance of using appropriate methods to measure fitness in evolved virus populations, and provide further support to a model of evolutionary dynamics in which costs due to incongruent landscapes provided by different environments are more common than tradeoffs.


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