Classical studies of molecular biology revealed how cells sense their environment and respond to change, establishing the centrality of gene regulation in cellular physiology. Numerous mechanisms in bacteria, however, function in a largely deregulated way, generating a diversity of responses across the population, without necessarily sensing the environment. The existence of such stochastic mechanisms raises several (increasingly difficult) questions: (1) How do microorganisms employ stochasticity to their advantage? (2) Can we distinguish such adaptive stochasticity from useless noise that is simply too costly for cells to avoid? (3) How, and under what circumstances, do sensing mechanisms evolve? My research employs theoretical and computational modeling of bacteria populations in fluctuating environments, and comparative genomics of experimentally-characterized stochastic switches.
Closely related topics of research include the evolution of mutation rates, mutator phenotypes, and mutational hotspots in genomes. My other interests include protein folding and protein evolution.