Joanna Summers

Ph.D. Student
Affiliated projects
I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. Here I completed my studies at Massey University, with my undergraduate degree focusing on genetics and molecular biology. This was followed by my Master of Natural Sciences, the research for my thesis complete under the supervision of Prof. Paul Rainey. Upon the success of this project and my interest in continuing the work, Prof. Paul Rainey offered me a position to start my PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany. I accepted this offer, so beginning in April 2018 I have been a student here doing research towards my PhD degree.
Research interests
My research more broadly is interested in the use of a bacterial model organism and genetic tools to gain insight into evolution and the origins of life. Specifically, the work we do uses the collective-level behaviour of the plant-colonising bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 as a model for the major transition from unicellular to multicellular life and the evolution of Darwinian individuality. Through experimental evolution we recreate a primitive multicellular life cycle in SBW25 that transitions between a collective ‘somatic body’ and individual cell ‘germ-line’ phenotypic state, with selection for this transition to come under developmental regulation. My research focus has been to characterise the genetic underpinnings of such a developmental switch, and understand how this ties in with the ability to respond to environmental cues. I am also interested in disentangling the functional effect of mutation and the environment on the complex cyclic-di-GMP signalling network that underpins this collective phenotype, and how this is all relevant to the behaviour of SBW25 in its natural environment.
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