Evolutionary roles of CRISPR-Cas systems
CRISPR-Cas systems are microbial defence systems that provide prokaryotes with acquired and heritable DNA-based immunity against selfish genetic elements, primarily viruses. Since CRISPR-Cas systems can impede lateral gene transfer, it is often assumed that they reduce genetic diversity. Conversely, our recent results suggest the exact opposite: namely that these systems generate a high level of genomic diversity within populations. We are studying the eco-evolutionary role of CRISPR-Cas systems in shaping microbial populations, using ecologically-guided genomics and experimental evolution.
The origin of eukaryotic fusion and sex
Sex, the ability of cells to fuse and shuffle genetic material between them (via recombination) is an ancestral trait of eukaryotes, but where did it come from? Like other molecular features of eukaryotes, it probably originates in the archaea. We are studying "prokaryotic sex" - cell fusion and recombination in archaea - using genomics and genetics. This is also a great model system to test the effects of extreme horizontal gene transfer between related and distant microbial species.
The human microbiome in inflammatory disease
There is increasing evidence supporting the involvement of the gut microbiome in eliciting inflammation is several human diseases: from inflammatory bowel diseases to cardiovascular disease. We are studying the microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and testing whether personalized bacteria-targeted interventions, either nutritional or probiotic, can support a better microbial community and help extend periods of remission. We are also looking at the emergence of antibiotic resistance in antibiotic-treated IBD and how it affects treatment success.
Evolution of prokaryotic RNA viruses
RNA viruses are the fastest evolving and the simplest self-replicating biological entities on earth. As such they represent excellent models for evolutionary biology, and also can potentially be exploited in phage therapy. We are studying the evolution of RNA coliphage MS2 and are attempting to isolate RNA viruses of archaea from hypersaline ecosystems. We are also interested in how the first eukaryotic RNA viruses emerged using genomics, synthetic biology, and biochemical approaches.