Multi-trophic interactions in a multi-enemy world

ZebrafishUnderstanding how bacterial dynamics and pathogen outbreaks develop in a web of biological interactions is interesting from theoretical, but also from empirical and applied perspectives. We are especially interested in how interactions within species (competition) and between species (competition, predation or parasitism) alter bacterial virulence and life histories.  We also focus on the evolution and structures of viruses to understand the interplay between virus infectivity and host responses at a molecular level.  We approach these objectives by combining experimental evolution, field studies and molecular tools, as well as theoretical modeling. Our recent work has demonstrated rapid evolution of altered bacterial social interactions, growth rate, tolerance to starvation, temperature, parasitism and predation, because of various kinds of selection pressures. Such changes in phenotypes have also been found to indirectly affect pathogen virulence. Genetics, transcriptomics and epigenetics will provide the detailed understanding of the molecular background of these changes. Our work contributes to testing and development of timely eco-evolutionary theories, but has also applied value in explaining birth of epidemics and evolutionary emergence of pest and pathogens.

Specifically, our study aims are in

  • understanding how bacterial social interactions, thermal and biological selection environments modify disease virulence and bacterial life histories
  • pinpointing the genetic changes associated with virulence and adaptation to various selection pressures.
  • development on novel biological tools based on virus-bacteria interaction to reduce the use of antibiotics
  • development more applied hybrid stochastic models to understand pathogen dynamics within aquaculture rearing units under differential environmental selection pressures

These aims are under scrutiny of four principal investigators and their groups:

Virulence evolution: Dr. Lotta-Riina Sundberg

Experimental Evolution Lab: Dr. Tarmo Ketola

Theoretical models: Prof. Jouni Laakso