Michael Manhart awarded Human Frontier Science Program Early Career Research Grant

April 25, 2024
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Dr. Michael Manhart, Assistant Professor in CABM and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at RWJMS, has been awarded an Early Career Research Grant from the Human Frontier Science Program.  HFSP funds high-risk, high-reward projects involving interdisciplinary, international collaborations.  This project will be conducted with the labs of Dr. Daniel Charlebois (University of Alberta, Canada) and Dr. Meike Wortel (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands).

Predicting the future course of evolution is a critical problem for the study of infectious diseases, cancer, and climate change.  While empirical data has shown that the predictability of evolution varies across biological scales — evolution usually being more predictable at large scales like traits of whole organisms, and less predictable at small scales like nucleotides in genomic DNA — it is unknown what biological scales are optimal for predicting evolutionary change.  In particular, the role of ecological-scale properties is a major unknown for understanding evolutionary predictability in natural microbial ecosystems, which almost always consist of multiple species existing together.

Many human infections involve multispecies microbial communities, including Candida yeasts, a genus of fungal pathogens that is increasing evolving resistance to common antifungal drugs.  The goal of this project is therefore to study how predictable is the evolution of multispecies communities of Candida yeasts, in the presence of the antifungal drug fluconazole.  Using laboratory evolutionary experiments, multiscale models of cell physiology, and evolutionary theory, Dr. Manhart and collaborators aim to determine whether community diversity corresponds to less predictable evolutionary outcomes.