Horizontal gene transfer, or HGT, is a process by which organisms acquire new genes from their environment and incorporate them into their own genomes. This process occurs in all forms of life on Earth, however, it is most prevalent in prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. For example, antibiotic resistance genes that were horizontally acquired by the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus gave rise to MRSA and VRSA: deadly bacterial strains responsible for epidemics that have killed tens of thousands of people in the United States. In 2017 alone, nearly 20,000 deaths were recorded because of Staphylococcus aureus infections.
This summer, we will be inferring and investigating patterns of HGT in a diverse group of microorganisms. This includes pathogenic bacteria that cause disease, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Campylobacter jejunii, as well as environmentally important microbes, such as hyperthermophilic and methanogenic archaea. To accomplish this, we will use and improve xenoGI, a software package developed by our lab for investigating HGT in microbial genome sequences.
We hope to be in-person this summer, but the position will be available even if the pandemic makes us work remotely.
In addition to filling out the application on this site, to complete your application for summer research in Biology, please contact me to discuss the project and submit the google form below by Feb 28:
Our lab members are friendly and supportive. We are passionate about our work and love solving biological problems using computational approaches. If you enjoy computational work, and want to apply it to microbial evolution and human health, then this could be a fun project for you.