MacLean Lab

About the Group

Research in the MacLean lab is focused on understanding the evolutionary biology of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria. Bacteria have evolved a wide diversity of mechanisms for combating antibiotics, and the spread of resistance depends on processes that occur across a broad range of biological scales ranging from individual molecules to bacterial communities. We try and embrace this diversity by working on resistance evolution from a variety of different perspectives, and the main themes of our research are outlined below.  

Fitness costs and compensatory evolution

Antibiotic resistance usually reduces bacterial competitive ability, and this fitness cost is thought to represent a key obstacle to the spread of resistance at an epidemiological scale. We are interested in understanding why resistance carries a cost, and when this cost will cause resistance to decline after antibiotic use is reduced.

Evolutionary consequences of intervention strategies

How should we use antibiotics? This theme explores the evolutionary consequences of different intervention strategies, such as altering the frequency and intensity of antibiotic use, and how this impacts the dynamics of resistance at a population level.

Mobile resistance

Many of the most important antibiotic resistance genes in clinical pathogens are found on plasmids, autonomously replicating circles of DNA that can jump between bacteria. We are interested in understanding why resistance genes are on plasmids, and on how plasmids can persist in bacterial populations when antibiotic use declines.

Genomic drivers of resistance

Bacteria show extensive diversity in genome content and sequence. We are interested in understanding how genomic background shapes the rate and mechanisms of resistance evolution.

For more information visit:



Craig MacLean, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow and Professor of Evolution and Microbiology

Natalia Kapel, Research Assistant
Rachel Wheatley, Postdoc
Julio Diaz Caballero, Postdoc
Pramod Jangir, Postdoc
Isuru Goonatilake, DPhil Student 
Celia Souque, DPhil Student
Jacqueline Gill, DPhil Student
Lois Ogunlana, DPhil Student
Divjot Kaur, DPhil Student

Recent Publications

  1. Perspective – The Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance. R.C MacLean and A. San Millan. Science (2019) DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3879
  2. Assessing evolutionary risks of resistance for new antimicrobial therapies. M. A. Brockhurst, F. Harrison, J-W. Veening, E. Harrison, G.Blackwell, Z.Iqbal and C. MacLean. Nature Ecology and Evolution (2019) doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-0854-x
  3. Increasing Parasite Diversity Accelerates Host Adaptation and Diversification. A.Betts, C.Gray, M.Zelek, R.C MacLean* and K.King*. Science (2018) DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9974
  4. Identifying and Exploiting Genes that Potentiate the Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance. D. Gifford, V. Furió, A. Papkou, T.Vogwill, A.Oliver and R.C. MacLean. Nature Ecology and Evolution (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0547-x
  5. Cooperation, competition and antibiotic resistance in bacterial colonies. I. Frost, W.P. J. Smith, S. Mitri, A.San Millan, Y. Davit, J.M. Osborne, J.M. Pitt-Francis, R.C MacLean*, and K. R. Foster*. ISME Journal( 2018) doi:10.1038/s41396-018-0090-4 
  6. Balancing mcr-1 expression and bacterial survival is a delicate equilibrium between essential cellular defence mechanisms. Yang, L. Mei, O.Spiller, D.Andrey, P. Hincliffe, C. MacLean, P. Niumsup, L. Powell, M. Pritchard, A. Papkou, Y. Shen, E. Portal, K. Sands, J. Spencer, U. Tansawai, D. Thomas, S. Wang, Y. Wang, J. Shen, T. Walsh and H.Li. Nature Communications (2017) doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02149-0 
  7. Multicopy plasmids potentiate the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. A. San Millan, J.A Escudero, D.Gifford, D. Mazel and R.C MacLean Nature Ecology and Evolution (2016) doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0010