Virus reprogrammes ocean plankton

Research reveals how viruses manipulate the physiology and ecology of phytoplankton, thus influencing marine nutrient cycles.

Antibiotics can boost bacterial reproduction

Two types of lab E. coli on an agar plate. The green ones are drug resistant and the blue ones are not.

Evolutionary Biology

Our research focus

Within the Evolutionary Biology theme, we use a range of interdisciplinary approaches to understand the evolution of biological systems. These approaches include the study of the evolution of antibiotic resistance, how microbes maximise utilisation of environmental resources, how parasites and symbionts evolve to colonise host environments, how organisms fit on to the tree of life and how cellular, biochemistry and genomic characteristics vary across the tree of life. Our research makes use of a range of methods from microfluidic cell manipulation, mathematical modelling, algorithm development, genomic sequencing, phylogenomics, characterisation of sensory proteins, 
manipulating endosymbiotic interactions, to characterising organelle function.

By bringing together diverse cellular, genomic and microbial approaches we aim to understand how evolutionary processes shape the diversification of biological systems.

Recent research highlights

Studies provide unique insight into the evolution of cooperation within microbial populations

Microbial cooperation is central to ecological and epidemiological processes. Yet, theory and experiments disagree about the effect of population density on selection for cooperation. Studies led by Ivana Gudelj resolve this problem. The studies provide the first experimental evidence that cooperation can be favoured at high population densities in spatially-structured environments and use mathematics to explain why this result has so far been elusive.

Lindsay RJ et al. (2018). ISME J. 12(3): 849-859.

Study reveals how marine diatoms adapt to fluctuating environments

Nick Smirnoff and David Studholme, working with colleagues at our Cornwall campus, studied molecular evolution in the marine diatom, Thalassiosira pseudonana. Diatoms are hugely important for converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic chemicals in food-chains; but little is known about their ability to adapt to climate change. This study measured the capacity for adaptation to warming, finding that evolutionary adaptation can be rapid, particularly in fluctuating environments, and was underpinned by major genomic and phenotypic change.

Schaum E et al. (2018). Nature Communications 9(1):1719.

Virus reprogrammes ocean plankton

An international collaboration led by Tom Richards has provided startling new insight into how viruses may manipulate the physiology and ecology of phytoplankton and influence marine nutrient cycles. The research team studied the OTV6 virus, revealing that it reprogrammes how phytoplankton obtain nutrients, which affects how they grow and is likely to affect how they absorb carbon dioxide.

Monier A et al. (2017). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 114(36):E7489-E7498. | Read more here.

Reductive evolution results in loss of glycolysis in microsporidia

Research led by Bryony Williams has revealed how the microsporidia Enterospora canceri has lost glycolysis in the course of its adaptation to an intranuclear life. Indeed, this entire lineage of medically and economically important microsporidian pathogens lacks any obvious intrinsic means of generating energy, making it truly unique amongst eukaryotes.

Wiredu Boakye D et al. (2017). Environ Microbiol. 19(5):2077-2089.