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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Research project: Antimicrobial Tolerance in Bacterial Biofilms: An Inter-Disciplinary Approach

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within matrix-encased communities called biofilms, which are extremely recalcitrant to antibiotics. One of the reasons for this tolerance is the presence of subpopulations of dormant cells called persisters, which are able to survive high levels of antibiotics. This project uses population ecology theory to understand the phenomenon of persister cells in bacterial biofilms.

Persisters are a subset of cells that comprise up to 1% of a bacterial population. Although they do not have genetic resistance to a particular antibiotic (such as Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA), they are able to survive attack by high concentrations of a wide range of antibiotics. Present theory suggests that this is because the persister cells have become dormant (non-replicating), and thus survive the antibiotic stress. Despite recent progress in understanding molecular determinants of persister cell formation, few studies have examined in vitro the evolutionary and ecological drivers that sustain their presence.

This Phd tests a population ecology theory that uses negligible senescence to gain insight into the population role of persisters. Predictions are made as to which environmental conditions will result in increased or decreased persister allocation, and these are explored in vitro. To suit the conditions of the ecological model, we require a bacterial population that is density dependent, and thus densely crowded. Bacterial biofilms formed by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA01 are ideal, not only due to their heavy crowding, but because there are known to be high levels of persisters present. Using this background, we examine the effects of growth rate, frequency of antibiotics, and mutation rate on persister cells. We are also examining roles that persister cells may have in the biofilm life cycle.

Funding: CASE studentship funded by the BBSRC, with Pfizer as the Industrial sponsor.
PhD Supervisor: Dr Jeremy Webb & Dr Patrick Doncaster.

Related research groups

Environmental Biosciences
Bacteria preferentially live in crowded communities called biofilms, that are encased with slime and are attached to a surface
Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm visu
When biofilms are treated with antibiotics, some bacteria inside the biofilm can survive even though the organism is sensitive to the antimicrobial used. One reason of this is the presence of dormant
Subpopulations of bacteria in biofi
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