John Bruce (University of Oxford) wins the AllGenetics-EMPSEB Award 2015

The talk «Warfare in Natural Bacterial Populations» was selected as the best one presented at the EMPSEB21 meeting in Stirling last week.

John Bruce, a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford, has won the AllGenetics-EMPSEB Award 2015. His talk «Warfare in Natural Bacterial Populations» was selected by the organising commitee as the best one presented at the 21st edition of the European Meeting of PhD Students in Evolutionary Biology (EMPSEB21). The meeting was held in the University of Stirling (Scotland) last week.

John is a member of the Ashleigh Griffin’s Lab (Department of Zoology, University of Oxford) where he studies the competition and transmission between Pseudomonas aeruginosa strains in cystic fibrosis patients.

Since 2011 the AllGenetics-EMPSEB Award is conferred to the best work presented at the EMPSEB meeting. The prize consists in a one-week holiday for six people at The Farm Cottage (Galicia, Spain). The AllGenetics-EMPSEB Award has been won by Mareike Wurdack (Universität Freiburg) in 2012, by Pepijn Kamminga (Universiteit Leiden) in 2013, and by Margo Maex (Vrije universiteit Brussel) in 2014.

This is the abstract of John’s talk:

Warfare in Natural Bacterial Populations (John Bruce, University of Oxford)

All bacteria produce antagonistic compounds, such as bacteriocins, which are important determinants of intraspecific competition. Both theory and experimental studies have shown that production of these toxins is important for the invasion and defence of niches, as well as providing a mechanism to maintain diversity. However, the relevance of antagonistic behaviours to the diversity and distribution of strains in natural bacterial populations is unknown. Here, we sampled and genetically characterized natural populations of Pseudomonas fluorescens from soil at multiple sites in a local park and constructed a network of antagonistic interactions between strains. We find that genetically diverse strains coexist at very local, centimetre, scales and demonstrate that antagonism is attenuated locally, within-sites, and more prevalent between-sites. These results suggest that these genetically diverse populations of P. fluorescens are adapted to their local social environment: they are resistant to an array of locally produced toxins. This may be the result of limited dispersal in local populations, or alternatively, antagonistic interactions may reinforce boundaries between populations and deter invasion by conspecifics. This raises both theoretical and empirical questions concerning how antagonistic traits, through their influence on population structure, will coevolve with cooperative traits.