Do Social Interactions Matter in Complex Communities of Microbes?
My research asks broad questions about how microbial communities evolve and function. In particular, I am interested in how intra- and interspecific interactions within these communities can shape environmentally and clinically important microbial traits, such as heavy metal bioremediation, adaptation to phage, antibiotic resistance, virulence and microbial motility. My research to date has shown that community context is crucial for understanding evolutionary trajectories of bacteria, and so by considering bacteria as single non-interacting cells we lose important information about the factors shaping bacterial evolution. To tackle these questions, I experimentally evolve microbes in complex environments that bridge the gap between the lab and the field - incorporating aspects such as spatial structure, interacting species and/or intraspecific variation. My ultimate goal is to link simple single-species in vitro evolution with field observations, allowing us to better understand the interplay between ecology and evolution in microbial communities.
O'Brien, S., E. Hesse, A. Lujan, D. J. Hodgson, and A. Buckling (2018). "No effect of intraspecific relatedness on public goods cooperation in a complex community". Evolution 72: 1165-1173.
O'Brien, S. and J. L. Fothergill (2017). "The role of multispecies social interactions in driving Pseudomonas aeruginosa pathogenicity in the cystic fibrosis lung." FEMS Microbiology Letters 364: 15.
O'Brien, S., D. J. Hodgson, and A. Buckling (2014). "Social evolution of toxic metal bioremediation in Pseudomonas aeruginosa." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 1787, 20140858.