Assistant Faculty Member, Computational Biology
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
October 9, 2012
Robustness in cell-cell interactions
Cell-cell interactions are essential for collective traits such as tissue morphogenesis. But how do cell collectives remain robust against the many challenges they face? We address this fundamental question with a simple model: swarming by the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Swarming requires that the individual bacterium cells produce and secrete massive amounts of biosurfactants, which requires spending metabolic resources that could otherwise be used for growth. We used a combination of microbial genetics and evolutionary theory to reveal that P. aeruginosa has a mechanism of gene regulation whereby cells produce biosurfactants only when the impact of its synthesis is minimal. This mechanism, metabolic prudence, prevents competition by cheater mutants. We apply similar combinations of mechanistic knowledge and evolutionary theory to elucidate complex traits in other cell-population systems such as the gut microbiota.