Author(s): Conlan AJ, Coward C, Grant AJ, Maskell DJ, Gog JR
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Abstract Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common causes of acute enteritis in the developed world. The consumption of contaminated poultry, where C. jejuni is believed to be a commensal organism, is a major risk factor. However, the dynamics of this colonization process in commercially reared chickens is still poorly understood. Quantification of these dynamics of infection at an individual level is vital to understand transmission within populations and formulate new control strategies. There are multiple potential routes of introduction of C. jejuni into a commercial flock. Introduction is followed by a rapid increase in environmental levels of C. jejuni and the level of colonization of individual broilers. Recent experimental and epidemiological evidence suggest that the celerity of this process could be masking a complex pattern of colonization and extinction of bacterial strains within individual hosts. Despite the rapidity of colonization, experimental transmission studies exhibit a highly variable and unexplained delay time in the initial stages of the process. We review past models of transmission of C. jejuni in broilers and consider simple modifications, motivated by the plausible biological mechanisms of clearance and latency, which could account for this delay. We show how simple mathematical models can be used to guide the focus of experimental studies by providing testable predictions based on our hypotheses. We conclude by suggesting that competition experiments could be used to further understand the dynamics and mechanisms underlying the colonization process. The population models for such competition processes have been extensively studied in other ecological and evolutionary contexts. However, C. jejuni can potentially adapt phenotypically through phase variation in gene expression, leading to unification of ecological and evolutionary time-scales. For a theoretician, the colonization dynamics of C. jejuni offer an experimental system to explore these 'phylodynamics', the synthesis of population dynamics and evolutionary biology.
This article was published in J R Soc Interface
and referenced in Journal of Vaccines & Vaccination