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  1. Abstract We propose and analyze a family of epidemiological models that extend the classic Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered/Removed (SIR)-like framework to account for dynamic heterogeneity in infection risk. The family of models takes the form of a system of reaction–diffusion equations given populations structured by heterogeneous susceptibility to infection. These models describe the evolution of population-level macroscopic quantities S ,  I ,  R as in the classical case coupled with a microscopic variable f , giving the distribution of individual behavior in terms of exposure to contagion in the population of susceptibles. The reaction terms represent the impact of sculpting the distribution of susceptibles by the infection process. The diffusion and drift terms that appear in a Fokker–Planck type equation represent the impact of behavior change both during and in the absence of an epidemic. We first study the mathematical foundations of this system of reaction–diffusion equations and prove a number of its properties. In particular, we show that the system will converge back to the unique equilibrium distribution after an epidemic outbreak. We then derive a simpler system by seeking self-similar solutions to the reaction–diffusion equations in the case of Gaussian profiles. Notably, these self-similar solutions lead to a system of ordinary differential equations including classic SIR-like compartments and a new feature: the average risk level in the remaining susceptible population. We show that the simplified system exhibits a rich dynamical structure during epidemics, including plateaus, shoulders, rebounds and oscillations. Finally, we offer perspectives and caveats on ways that this family of models can help interpret the non-canonical dynamics of emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19. 
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  2. Raina, Jean-Baptiste (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Nutrient availability can significantly influence microbial genomic and proteomic streamlining, for example, by selecting for lower nitrogen to carbon ratios. Oligotrophic open ocean microbes have streamlined genomic nitrogen requirements relative to those of their counterparts in nutrient-rich coastal waters. However, steep gradients in nutrient availability occur at meter-level, and even micron-level, spatial scales. It is unclear whether such gradients also structure genomic and proteomic stoichiometry. Focusing on the eastern tropical North Pacific oxygen minimum zone (OMZ), we use comparative metagenomics to examine how nitrogen availability shapes microbial and viral genome properties along the vertical gradient across the OMZ and between two size fractions, distinguishing free-living microbes versus particle-associated microbes. We find a substantial increase in the nitrogen content of encoded proteins in particle-associated over free-living bacteria and archaea across nitrogen availability regimes over depth. Within each size fraction, we find that bacterial and viral genomic nitrogen tends to increase with increasing nitrate concentrations with depth. In contrast to cellular genes, the nitrogen content of virus proteins does not differ between size fractions. We identified arginine as a key amino acid in the modulation of the C:N ratios of core genes for bacteria, archaea, and viruses. Functional analysis reveals that particle-associated bacterial metagenomes are enriched for genes that are involved in arginine metabolism and organic nitrogen compound catabolism. Our results are consistent with nitrogen streamlining in both cellular and viral genomes on spatial scales of meters to microns. These effects are similar in magnitude to those previously reported across scales of thousands of kilometers. IMPORTANCE The genomes of marine microbes can be shaped by nutrient cycles, with ocean-scale gradients in nitrogen availability being known to influence microbial amino acid usage. It is unclear, however, how genomic properties are shaped by nutrient changes over much smaller spatial scales, for example, along the vertical transition into oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) or from the exterior to the interior of detrital particles. Here, we measure protein nitrogen usage by marine bacteria, archaea, and viruses by using metagenomes from the nitracline of the eastern tropical North Pacific OMZ, including both particle-associated and nonassociated biomass. Our results show higher genomic and proteomic nitrogen content in particle-associated microbes and at depths with higher nitrogen availability for cellular and viral genomes. This discovery suggests that stoichiometry influences microbial and viral evolution across multiple scales, including the micrometer to millimeter scale associated with particle-associated versus free-living lifestyles. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 27, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Dormancy is an adaptation to living in fluctuating environments. It allows individuals to enter a reversible state of reduced metabolic activity when challenged by unfavorable conditions. Dormancy can also influence species interactions by providing organisms with a refuge from predators and parasites. Here we test the hypothesis that, by generating a seed bank of protected individuals, dormancy can modify the patterns and processes of antagonistic coevolution. We conducted a factorially designed experiment where we passaged a bacterial host (Bacillus subtilis) and its phage (SPO1) in the presence versus absence of a seed bank consisting of dormant endospores. Owing in part to the inability of phages to attach to spores, seed banks stabilized population dynamics and resulted in minimum host densities that were 30-fold higher compared to bacteria that were unable to engage in dormancy. By supplying a refuge to phage-sensitive strains, we show that seed banks retained phenotypic diversity that was otherwise lost to selection. Dormancy also stored genetic diversity. After characterizing allelic variation with pooled population sequencing, we found that seed banks retained twice as many host genes with mutations, whether phages were present or not. Based on mutational trajectories over the course of the experiment, we demonstrate that seed banks can dampen bacteria-phage coevolution. Not only does dormancy create structure and memory that buffers populations against environmental fluctuations, it also modifies species interactions in ways that can feed back onto the eco-evolutionary dynamics of microbial communities.

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  4. Mutheneni, Srinivasa Rao (Ed.)
    The COVAX program aims to provide global equitable access to life-saving vaccines. Despite calls for increased sharing, vaccine protectionism has limited progress towards vaccine sharing goals. For example, as of April 2022 only ~20% of the population in Africa had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Here we use a two-nation coupled epidemic model to evaluate optimal vaccine-sharing policies given a selfish objective: in which countries with vaccine stockpiles aim to minimize fatalities in their own population. Computational analysis of a suite of simulated epidemics reveal that it is often optimal for a donor country to share a significant fraction of its vaccine stockpile with a recipient country that has no vaccine stockpile. Sharing a vaccine stockpile reduces the intensity of outbreaks in the recipient, in turn reducing travel-associated incidence in the donor. This effect is intensified as vaccination rates in a donor country decrease and epidemic coupling between countries increases. Critically, vaccine sharing by a donor significantly reduces transmission and fatalities in the recipient. Moreover, the same computational framework reveals the potential use of hybrid sharing policies that have a negligible effect on fatalities in the donor compared to the optimal policy while significantly reducing fatalities in the recipient. Altogether, these findings provide a self-interested rationale for countries to consider sharing part of their vaccine stockpiles. 
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  5. Estimating the differences in the incubation-period, serial-interval, and generation-interval distributions of SARS-CoV-2 variants is critical to understanding their transmission. However, the impact of epidemic dynamics is often neglected in estimating the timing of infection—for example, when an epidemic is growing exponentially, a cohort of infected individuals who developed symptoms at the same time are more likely to have been infected recently. Here, we reanalyze incubation-period and serial-interval data describing transmissions of the Delta and Omicron variants from the Netherlands at the end of December 2021. Previous analysis of the same dataset reported shorter mean observed incubation period (3.2 d vs. 4.4 d) and serial interval (3.5 d vs. 4.1 d) for the Omicron variant, but the number of infections caused by the Delta variant decreased during this period as the number of Omicron infections increased. When we account for growth-rate differences of two variants during the study period, we estimate similar mean incubation periods (3.8 to 4.5 d) for both variants but a shorter mean generation interval for the Omicron variant (3.0 d; 95% CI: 2.7 to 3.2 d) than for the Delta variant (3.8 d; 95% CI: 3.7 to 4.0 d). The differences in estimated generation intervals may be driven by the “network effect”—higher effective transmissibility of the Omicron variant can cause faster susceptible depletion among contact networks, which in turn prevents late transmission (therefore shortening realized generation intervals). Using up-to-date generation-interval distributions is critical to accurately estimating the reproduction advantage of the Omicron variant. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 30, 2024