PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Life finds a way: microbial adaptations
Microorganisms were the first lifeforms on Earth and will exist long after humans are gone. For millions of years these simple lifeforms have adapted to the strangest of environments, from the depths of the ocean floor to your own stomach! To quote one of my favorite movies: “Life finds a way”. In this project, the student will choose any microbe of interest, the weirder the better. We’ll dive through primary literature to learn where it lives and how it has adapted to live there. This gives us clues about the microbe’s evolutionary history, and we can predict how these adaptations may change if we were to alter its environment. For example, many organisms that cause disease normally live in the environment and adapted to live in dirt or plants. Imagine the confusion when they get inside a human: years of evolution shaping the perfect soil dweller did not prepare them for the human body. How do they react to this environment, and how does the microbe’s presence affect its host? In infectious disease microbiology, these adaptations are termed “virulence factors”—they’re the culprit of why a microbe can make us sick, but simply an adaptation the organism uses for survival. We can tailor this project to study any microbe and its virulence factors. The research will primarily come from published literature and cumulate in a short report/review of these microbe-host relationships.
Testing host-microbe interactions
Following a literature review from project 1, we will develop an original scientific proposal based off any hypothesis the student would want to test from their researched microbial adaptations. For instance, our research on an environmental bacteria that causes disease in humans may have uncovered molecular tools the bacteria uses to invade plant tissue, but it’s unknown how they invade human tissue. One might hypothesize that these plant adaptations are being used in the human host. I will guide the student through the scientific method and the current laboratory research techniques we have at our disposal to address the hypothesis. Along the way, the student will become familiar with literature search and review, experimental design, model systems, microbial genetics, and molecular biology.