What can evolution do and why? : Using synthetic biology to understand evolution
I want to understand how molecular biology shapes evolution. Mutations are the driving force of evolution, but the effects of mutations – what they do, what changes they cause – is defined by the existing molecular mechanisms inside cells. By focusing not only on those mutations that lead to adaptation, but also on those that do not, we can uncover how mechanisms constrain evolution. To do this in the lab, I employ methods from synthetic biology and experimental evolution to tinker with bacterial gene regulatory networks. I also work closely with biophysicists, theoretical biologists and modelers in order to gain deeper insights into the relationship between molecular mechanisms and evolution. The biggest benefit of adopting such approaches is that we start being able to predict the effects of mutations without having to first generate and measure every mutant in the lab – a feat that has largely eluded evolutionary biologists.
So far, my work focused on the most basic components of gene regulatory networks – the promoters – where we have shown that understanding mechanistic constraints allows us to predict the effects of mutations. My goal is to build complexity step by step, always asking how each new component constrains the evolution of the network. I am particularly interested in applying these approaches to improve our ability to predict, and hence slow down, the emergence of antimicrobial resistance.
If you are interested in playing with bacteria in order to understand how biological mechanisms determine evolution, get in touch – irrespective of whether you are a wet or a dry scientist. Whether you are looking for an internship, a Ph.D. or a postdoc position, there are options to explore.
I did my undergrad at Harvard University and my Ph.D at the University of Warwick, where I studied evolution of resistance in a cool microbial species called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. In 2013, I started a postdoc at IST Austria with Calin Guet and Jon Bollback (now at Liverpool), slowly defining my major research interest – the relationship between molecular biology and evolution. I also attended a Master’s course at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, where I started developing some semblance of an artistic practice. I am currently a Presidential Fellow at the University of Manchester, starting my own research group.