Research Overview

The use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections is one of the most important drivers of the increase in average lifespan that has occurred in industrialized societies over the last 70 years. Unfortunately, the clinical use antibiotics has resulted in the rapid evolution of resistance in populations of bacterial pathogens, and the high levels of resistance that are found in populations of obligate pathogens, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis, and opportunistic pathogens, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that commonly causes hospital-acquired infections, threaten to undermine our ability to effectively treat bacterial infection.

Our research currently aims to:

  1. Understand the fundamental evolutionary processes that (i) drive the spread of resistance in bacterial populations that exposed to antibiotics and (ii) allow resistance to be maintained in the absence of antibiotic pressure.
  2. Address fundamental questions in evolutionary biology, such "How repeatable is evolution?" or "Is adaptation driven by mutations of large or small effect?" using the evolution of antibiotic resistance as a model system.

To address these questions, we try and use an interdisciplinary approach that integrates the molecular biology of antibiotic action and resistance into evolutionary models of adaptation at the population level. To carry out this research program, we primarily rely on using experimental evolution to directly investigate how resistance evolves in response to controlled manipulations over relatively short evolutionary timescales.

To complement this experimental approach, we are increasingly making use of bioinformatic methods, to study resistance evolution at a genomic scale, and comparative methods, to link the processes of resistance evolution that are clearly revealed by simple experiments to the complex patterns of antibiotic resistance that are found in real bacterial populations. Ultimately, we hope that this research program will allow us to develop novel strategies for using antibiotics that are based on evolutionary principles. Further information on specific research themes can be found below and you can click on this link for general publications on resistance and experimental evolution.

Funding

Our work is made possible by funding from the Royal Society and the European Research Council. In addition, many members of the group hold studentships and fellowships from a number of funding bodies, and details of this can be found on individual group member pages.