Modelling and Control of Bacterial Decision-Making in Microfluidics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Bacteria, just like humans, constantly make decisions: where to go to survive, what to eat and whether to divide or not. Often these decisions are a matter of life or death to them: choosing to follow the wrong chemical cue between to alternatives might lead them to nutrient depleted areas and kill them. Yet, bacteria are, in essence, just micron-sized containers filled with water, mostly, DANE, RNA, proteins, salts and sugars. How does a "bag of chemicals" then make complex decisions?

This project aims to combine principles from Systems and Synthetic Biology to address this question and study the molecular basis of decision-making in bacteria. To do so we will focus on two examples:

(a) chemotaxis, e.g. how motile bacteria decide which chemical cue to follow when exposed to two opposing gradients of nutrients, and;
(b) DMSP metabolism, e.g. how marine bacteria determine which of two degradation pathways to use to break down one of the most important compounds in the biogeochemistry of oceans
To this aim, we will integrate mathematical modelling and in-vivo experiments: we will seed bacteria in a microfluidic device, create "chemical" choices and observe in real-time their intracellular dynamics while they "reason" and commit to one of them. Analysing the dynamical models derived from experiments will uncover the role of gene and protein networks in shaping bacterial "free-will" which will eventually allow us to design intervention strategies to proactively change it, to control bacterial decision making in-vivo.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509644/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1807927 Studentship EP/N509644/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 Rose Emily Rae