Flask crowd

Will Harcombe’s fascination with evolution and ecosystem function adds a dynamic dimension to the quest to better understand — and tap the power of — the microorganisms in our lives.

“Community” means different things to different people. To an urban planner, it’s a neighborhood bustling with people. To a landscape ecologist, it’s the collection of plants and animals that paint a riotous portrait of life on the raw canvas of a barren landscape.

To Will Harcombe, it’s a whole bunch of microbes duking it out — and occasionally teaming up — in an Erlenmeyer flask, or an intestinal tract, or a wastewater treatment plant as they work (evolutionarily speaking) to boost their survival in the moving-target milieu of other microbes working to do the same.

Harcombe, who joined the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the BioTechnology Institute through the Microbial Systems research cluster in December, studies the evolution of cooperation and competition in bacteria and other microorganisms from a molecular perspective. His goal: to understand and be able to quantitatively predict how microbial communities change over time due to the interplay of their constituents’ physiological activities. Read More