The mechanisms and rates by which genotypic and phenotypic variation is generated in opportunistic, eukaryotic pathogens during growth in hosts are not well understood. We evaluated genomewide genetic and phenotypic evolution in Candida albicans, an opportunistic fungal pathogen of humans, during passage through a mouse host (in vivo) and during propagation in liquid culture (in vitro). We found slower population growth and higher rates of chromosome-level genetic variation in populations passaged in vivo relative to those grown in vitro. Interestingly, the distribution of long-range loss of heterozygosity (LOH) and chromosome rearrangement events across the genome differed for the two growth environments, while rates of short-range LOH were comparable for in vivo and in vitro populations. Further, for the in vivo populations, there was a positive correlation of cells demonstrating genetic alterations and variation in colony growth and morphology. For in vitro populations, no variation in growth phenotypes was detected. Together, our results demonstrate that passage through a living host leads to slower growth and higher rates of genomic and phenotypic variation compared to in vitro populations. Results suggest that the dynamics of population growth and genomewide rearrangement contribute to the maintenance of a commensal and opportunistic life history of C. albicans.
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