Research Fellows Directory
Dr Roderick MacLean
University of Oxford
The clinical use of antibiotics has arguably been the single largest contributor to increased longevity in industrialised societies over the last 80 years. Unfortunately, bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics by mutations that alter the cellular targets of antibiotics, or by acquiring resistance genes from neighbouring bacteria. Antibiotic exposure generates natural selection for resistant bacteria, and the rapid evolution of resistance in pathogenic bacteria currently threatens to undermine the clinical utility of existing antibiotics. As an evolutionary biologist, my main research interest is in understanding the fundamental evolutionary processes that drive the spread and maintenance. Questions that my research addresses include: 'Can we predict which bacteria are most likely to evolve resistance?', 'How do patterns of antibiotic use impact resistance evolution?' and 'When will resistance persist in the absence of antibiotic use?'. To address these questions, I use a combination of ideas from molecular and population biology of resistance to develop simple models that predict the evolutionary dynamics of resistance. These models are then tested using experiments that challenge bacterial populations with adapting to antibiotics under controlled and replicated conditions. Bacteria have short generation times, and this approach makes it possible to directly observe and manipulate evolution in real time. Ultimately, I hope that this research will lead to the development of ‘evolution-proof’ strategies for using antibiotics in clinical practice.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)