Our lab quantifies the interplay between diversity and functional capacity in natural microbial communities.

Microbial genomes harbor tremendous diversity at the gene level even within closely related taxonomic groups. Microbes exchange DNA, with each other and with viruses, and can also take up DNA from other sources in the environment. Microbial ecosystems, therefore, are an evolving social network of interacting and mobile genes with the capacity for tremendous functional plasticity.

Broadly, we ask: what enables genetic mobility, or information flow, in microbial ecosystems between sympatric bacteria, archaea, small eukaryotes and phage and how does mobile DNA contribute to the evolution of systems-level community functions?

Specifically, we seek to understand why the same clinical intervention or condition — for example administration of an anti cancer drug or infection with a pathogen — can lead to different outcomes in individual patients. We focus on the role of the microbiome in clinical outcomes. To this end, we study the evolutionary and metabolic influence of mobile DNA pools, including phage, extracellular vesicles, and variability islands capable of rapidly moving through taxonomically diverse microbial groups.