Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2017
Quantitatively Characterizing the Effects of Slow Physiological Changes on Phenotypic Switching in Bacteria
In the genomic era, one often hears the word genotype, which means the genetic makeup of an organism. A genotypically identical organism can exhibit distinct phenotypes. The word, phenotype, comes from Greek phainein, “to show,” and typos, or “type,” and means observable characteristics of an organism. Interestingly, studies have shown that some organisms can randomly switch between different phenotypes.
“As a mechanism to cope with hostile environments, bacteria spontaneously switch between markedly different phenotypes,” notes Minsu Kim, physics, Emory University. “This phenotypic switching plays a critical role in survival of bacteria under starvation, antibiotic treatment and attacks by host immune systems.”
Kim has received a Cottrell Scholar Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to investigate what drives phenotypic switching in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Through his advanced research, which he asked to be kept confidential for now, he hopes to identify factors that may trigger switching to an antibiotic-sensitive phenotype.
If his research is successful it could prove highly important for guiding development of strategies to cope with antibiotic resistance, a significant worldwide problem.
There is also an education component to the Cottrell Scholar Award. Kim will use some of the funding to modernize the content and instruction of undergraduate physics courses, developing class materials balancing understanding of physical principles and their application to biological problems, and incorporating them into inquiry-based instruction. His goal is “to create a pipeline of future interdisciplinary scientists.”