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David Bricker
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Multimillion-dollar Defense Department grant targets microbial mutation

July 28, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Southern California will receive as much as $6.25 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to study the constraints on mutation in microorganisms.

IU Bloomington microbiologist Patricia Foster is the five-year project's principal investigator. Joining her as co-PIs are IU Bloomington genome biologist and National Academy of Sciences Fellow Michael Lynch, IU Bloomington bioinformaticist Haixu Tang, and USC microbiologist Steven Finkel. Foster is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and is widely considered an expert on bacterial mutation.

Patricia Foster

Biologist Patricia Foster is the project's principal investigator

Print-Quality Photo

The scientists will use high-throughput techniques to amass large amounts of data from mutation accumulation experiments in the bacterium E. coli, then use bioinformatics approaches to digesting and making sense of that data. The scientists aren't merely interested in how many mutations accumulate, but also whether the mutations are more likely to occur in predictable areas. The team will also assess a natural baseline mutational rate in E. coli -- the rate at which mutations occur in nature.

Researchers will also estimate the rate and full spectrum of mutational characteristics of another two dozen or so species of bacteria, providing an as-yet unprecedented understanding of microbial evolution.

The five tasks the scientists have laid out are: determining the contributions that important pathways for DNA repair make to the genomic mutation rate, determining the extent to which cellular stress responses impact the mutational rate, assessing the mutational response to common growth conditions, broadening the understanding of microbial mutation rates and to test a recently developed model for the evolution of genomic base-composition, and developing a new class of population-genetic models for understanding the evolution of the mutation rate itself.

The scientists are currently budgeted for $3.62 million over the first three years of the project, then $2.63 million for a two-year "optional" period. The researchers plan to use the facilities of the IU Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics and the IU supercomputer.

To speak with Foster, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or