The rise in bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotic treatment poses a major global health challenge. Addressing this challenge is not just a clinical issue: understanding bacterial resistance evolution calls for an interdisciplinary approach, in which the development of new physics, in coordination with biology, chemistry and engineering, has a central role to play. In particular, statistical physics, to predict the stochastic emergence of drug-resistant mutants, must be integrated with soft matter and chemical physics, to understand the spatial organization of the bacterial populations within which this happens.
Bacterial infections are very often spatially heterogeneous. This is known to influence the outcome of antibiotic treatment – for example bacterial biofilms, which form on the surfaces of medical implants, are notoriously hard to remove. However, much less attention has been paid to the role of spatial structure in the evolution of drug resistance, i.e. the emergence and spread of genetically drug-resistant bacterial strains.
I lead a research programme, funded by the European Research Council, which aims to uncover the two-way link between the emergence of spatial structure in bacterial multicellular assemblies and the evolution of drug resistance. This programme involves determining the basic principles of evolution in drug gradients, exploring how these principles translate to the more realistic scenario of bacterial biofilms, and using these insights to reveal optimization principles for the design of evolution-resistant surface coatings for applications in medical devices.
People involved in this programme are postdocs Elin Lilja, Sharareh Tavaddod, Martin Carballo Pacheco, Gavin Melaugh, Susana Direito and Nikola Ojkic (now at UCL), and PhD students Rebeca Brouwers, Ellen Young and Patrick Sinclair.
A warm welcome to our new group assistant Mr Moritz Wiegand!
Congratulations to Nia Verdon who has submitted her PhD thesis!
We are advertising an experimental postdoc position on biophysics of microbial aggregation in the context of the human gut microbiome. Please publicise it! Deadline is 22nd November.
Check out our student Patrick Sinclair's paper in Physical Review Letters presenting a model for stochastic initiation of bacterial biofilms - and a commentary on it in Nature Reviews Physics.
Congratulations to Patrick Sinclair who has successfully defended his PhD thesis!