MIT Assistant Professor of Physics Jeff Gore is receiving a four-year, $1,131,603 grant from the National Institutes of Health - National Institute of General Medical Science to pursue research into cooperation and cheating in the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

The research addresses the rise in antibiotic resistance among bacteria to the most widely used class of antibiotic medicines, called beta-lactam antibiotics. Bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics like penicillin by expressing an enzyme, beta-lactamase, which inactivates the antibiotic.

We hypothesize that a tightly integrated combination of experiment and modeling will provide novel insight into how the cooperative nature of bacterial growth in beta-lactam antibiotics influences the evolution of antibiotic resistance, Gore said in his NIH application. The proposed studies will provide insight into the evolution of antibiotic resistance and cooperative behaviors more generally."

The Gore Lab uses experimental microbial populations to study fundamental questions in evolutionary systems biology and theoretical ecology.The Research Project Grant (R01) is the oldest NIH grant program. The first-year allocation of $283,311 for the NIH R01 award begins April 1, 2013. Gores National Institutes of Health research funding is managed by the Materials Processing Center at MIT.

Gores newly funded NIH research has three specific aims:

  • Determine how the cooperative nature of bacterial growth in beta-lactam antibiotics influences the direction of selection and conditions that lead to the spread of more resistant mutants.
  • Determine whether sensitive bacteria, which lack the plasmid encoding beta-lactamase, can act as cheaters and take advantage of the resistant bacteria that are inactivating the antibiotic. (A plasmid is a bit of DNA that can be transferred from one bacterium to another.)
  • Explore the conditions in which two bacterial strains, each resistant to a single antibiotic, can cooperatively grow in a multi-drug environment.

Gores previous research has explored the fitness landscapes associated with mutations in beta-lactamase and cooperation/cheating in yeast populations growing in sucrose. In Feb. 2013, Gore received a $1.5 million award from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to conduct research into the evolutionary origins of cooperation by applying game theory to how single-celled yeast make decisions about consuming and sharing sugar. The Allen Award is managed by the Department of Physics.

Gores previous NIH awards include a $1.5 million Director's New Innovator Award in fall 2012 and a K99/R00 Pathways to Independence Award in 2008. He also is a National Science Foundation Career Award recipient, a Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow.