Transmission Bottleneck Size Estimation from Pathogen Deep-Sequencing Data, with an Application to Human Influenza A Virus.


The transmission bottleneck size describes the size of the pathogen population transferred from the donor to the recipient host and may affect the rate of pathogen adaptation within host populations. Recent advances in sequencing technology have enabled bottleneck size estimation from pathogen genetic data, although there is not yet a consistency in the statistical methods used. Here, we introduce a new approach to infer the bottleneck size that accounts for variant identification protocols and noise during pathogen replication. We show that failing to account for these factors leads to an underestimation of bottleneck sizes. We apply this method to an existing data set of human influenza virus infections, showing that transmission is governed by a loose, but highly variable, transmission bottleneck whose size is positively associated with the severity of infection of the donor. Beyond advancing our understanding of influenza virus transmission, we hope that this work will provide a standardized statistical approach for bottleneck size estimation for viral pathogens.

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