Evolving Yeast for Plastic Adherence

Humans, bacteria, and other microbes like yeast live together in a delicate balance, all fighting to survive. However, this balance can easily be shifted. A normal commensal microbe can quickly turn into an opportunistic pathogen presenting problems for human health. In a hospital setting, this becomes a grave health concern for those that are already immune-compromised.

In stressful environments, microbes begin to cooperate to increase their chance of survival by forming biofilms. A biofilm is a multicellular complex of microbes that work together and excrete a sticky substance that attaches to surfaces (Donlan 2002). Often, clinical settings are quite stressful environments for microbes because of the vast amount of antibiotics. In this case, adhering to surfaces and forming biofilms can provide a layer of protection for these organisms against antibiotics. However, when these surfaces are catheters or implants, it increases harm to patients (Nobile and Johnson 2015).

The current method of fighting off pathogenic microbes is continuously inventing new drugs. But until we break down the evolutionary mechanisms that allow microbes to form biofilms and attach to surfaces, we are fighting a losing fight.

This past fall, I began working in Dr. Helen Murphy’s research lab. In the lab, we study Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a common yeast lab strain. Yeast are particularly good models to study microbial behavior because their entire genome has been sequenced (Engel et al. 2014). My project aims to understand how microbes evolve the ability to adhere to plastic and hopefully to break down the evolutionary mechanisms that allow microbes to form biofilms.