Genotype-phenotype heterogeneity of bacterial colonies

Understanding the genotype to phenotype connection is one of the key open questions in biology.

For a long time, a bacterial colony has been considered as a single homogeneous genetic entity, however subpopulations of bacteria in pure culture have been described already in the middle of 20th century. Such heterogeneity of pure bacterial cultures is determined by a high degree of their genomic plasticity and allows bacteria to cause diseases, avoid treatment, and produce diverse chemical components.

Mutations in particular proteins are only the tip of the iceberg as numerous repetitive elements in bacterial genomes induce puzzling patterns creating new capabilities for bacteria. In pathogens such repetitive motives in the genome enable randomly alternating ways to create a cell membrane. Subsequently, the host immune system might not recognize these cells as harmful, even if it was trained with these infections before which results in long-term, persistent infections.

We develop computational methods that reveal such mechanisms and help find ways to alleviate them. This will serve as a foundation for developing clinical strategies to treat patients more efficiently and develop better vaccines to prevent further infections. This work significantly improves our understanding of genome architecture and mechanisms of evolution and contributes to improvement of many processes that involve bacteria in food production, agriculture, and pharmacology.

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