Microbial Experimental Evolution and Statistical Genomics

Jonathan Bollback

Jonathan Bollback's group works in three primary areas: experimental evolution, evolutionary genomics, and statistical phylogenetics. Microbes — viruses, bacteria, archaea, and protists — account for half of all the biomass and the majority of organismal diversity on planet earth. Microbes gave rise to higher organisms and have left their genomic calling cards in the form of organelles, genes, and so called junk DNA. Microbes are the source of the majority of human diseases. For these reasons alone microbes are worthy of scientific study. Yet, they are also important in another way: they are an extraordinarily powerful model system for understanding in very fine detail how evolution works. Our research focuses on microbial evolution, evolutionary interactions between hosts and parasites, and the evolution of bacterial immunity. To accomplish this we use experimental evolution, population genetics, and statistical modeling.

Jonathan Bollback
Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria)
Am Campus 1
A – 3400 Klosterneuburg

Phone: +43 (0)2243 9000-3601
E-mail: jonathan.bollback@remove-this.ist.ac.at

CV and publication list

Jonathan Bollback's website

Christine Ostermann

Phone: +43 (0)2243 9000-1071
E-mail: christine.ostermann@remove-this.ist.ac.at


  • Hande Acar, PhD Student
  • Fabienne Jesse, PhD Student
  • Mato Lagator, Postdoc
  • Rodrigo A. F. Redondo, Postdoc

Current Projects

- The rate of adaptive evolution in sexual and asexual populations
In the absence of recombination, beneficial mutations appearing on different genetic backgrounds cannot fix simultaneously in a population together. Therefore, only one beneficial mutation can fix at a time, and all other beneficial mutations are lost in a process called clonal interference. As a result, asexual populations suffer a slower rate of adaptation relative to their sexual counterparts: in sexual populations recombination can quickly bring competing mutations together accelerating the rate of adaptation. It has been shown experimentally that in large asexual populations with high mutation rates, mutation alone can provide a recombination-like benefit by bringing together the two competing mutations. Our group is using experimental evolution to understand the mutational dynamics and rates of adaptation in (i) purely asexual populations, (ii) asexual populations with recurrent mutation, and (iii) sexual populations with recombination.

- The evolution of an adaptive heritable immune system in bacteria
Bacteria and Archaea have independently, from multicellular organisms, evolved an adaptive heritable immune system called CRISPR. In this system infected bacteria identify the infecting virus, encode viral information into their immune system conferring immunity, and then pass this immunity onto daughter cells. While we are beginning to understand functional aspects of how this system works, we no little if anything about the evolutionary dynamics of the system. My group is working to understand how this unique immune system evolves by monitoring the dynamics of wild populations of soil bacteria and their viruses, by developing statistical evolutionary models, and by genomic sequence analysis of Staphylococcus pseudintermedius in collaboration with Ross Fitzgerald (Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh).

Selected Publications

  • Bollback JP, Huelsenbeck JP. 2009. Parallel genetic evolution within and among bacteriophage species of varying degrees of divergence. Genetics 181: 225–234.
  • Bollback JP, Huelsenbeck JP. 2007. Clonal interference is alleviated by high mutation rates in large populations. Molecular Biology and Evoluton 24(6):1397–1406.
  • Bollback JP. 2002. Bayesian model adequacy and choice in phylogenetics. Molecular Biology and Evolution 19 (7): 1171-1180.

2010 Assistant Professor, IST Austria
2008–2010 Postdoc, Interdisciplinary Centre for Human and Avian Influenza Research, University of Edinburgh, UK
2004–2008 Postdoc, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
2004 PhD, University of Rochester, USA

Selected Distinctions
2007–2009 Forskningsrådet for Natur og Univers, FNU Grant
2007  Featured in Aktuel Naturvidenskab nr 3 (Current Science)
2006  Forskningsrådet for Sundhed og Sygdom, FSS Grant
1995–1998 Predoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution, USA