In evolution, the structure (geometry, topology) of the environment plays a crucial role. The interaction between populations is strongly infuenced by the geometry of the surroundings. For example the dispersal and signaling of cells and the nutrient conditions are all affected. By creating “patchy” environments (as a network of chambers and channels), loosely coupled local populations can be created (metapopulation phenomenon). So the structured environment results in a structured population. This heterogeneity may be beneficial from an evolutionary point of view as it helps to form and maintain a greater diversity.
We are studying the evolution of bacteria in microfabricated structures. In such ‘evolution-on-a-chip’ experiments we are trying to see if the geometry of the environment can directly result genetic changes that make the bacteria more fit to a particular environmental topology.
We are also interested in the evolution of antibiotic resistance. In these experiments we compare how quickly antibiotic resistance evolves in different topologies/geometries.
This program is the experimental counterpart of our theoretical efforts on evolutionary diversification.