Mathematically Modelling Merry and Miserable Microbiota

We are interested in understanding evolution in host-pathogen and other biological systems by developing mathematical models and statistical methods for analysing data. These projects would suit students interested in microbial evolution who would like to develop their skills in bioinformatics, computing and/or data analysis. Alternatively, you might be a student with a background in quantitative sciences such as maths, statistics, computing, physics or engineering and curiosity about how viruses and bacteria evolve. These projects can be tailored to fit the academic background, research interests and career goals of individual students.

Pathogenic bacteria can invade the gastrointestinal tract by expressing virulence factors that cause inflammation in the gut thereby causing a disturbance in the local microbiome. This may lead to a reduction in the population sizes of other bacteria, which gives pathogens a competitive advantage. But how can bacteria survive if they cause inflammation and reduce their own fitness? Although this may give these bacteria a relative competitive advantage, if their absolute fitness is too low, it may not be such a good survival strategy. Then again, if this is such an effective strategy, why don't all commensal bacterial species adopt it? In this project we will model hypothetical evolutionary pathways to understand when ‘healthy’ microbiota can persist, what happens when pathogenic bacteria invade, and how chronic inflammatory disease might arise.

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