Shaul Pollak

Postdoc | MIT |


I am fascinated by evolution. I like to think about the way ephemeral interactions between community members shape and constrain their long term evolution, and how signatures of these processes are represented in bacterial genomes

I completed a PhD with the wonderful Avigdor Eldar, studying the evolution of bacterial communication systems called Quorum-Sensing systems. We tried to address the puzzling finding that closely related strains have homologous systems the differ only in the signal specificity but have the same output (they activate the same set of genes). We showed that social interactions such as cooperation and cheating promote the fast specificity divergence in these systems.

In the Cordero lab, i am interested in how such interactions play out in natural communities between non-related organisms, and how they affect the evolution of community members. Specifically, I developed a method to infer exploitative, cooperative, and commensal interactions directly from genomic information.

Selected Publications:

Public good exploitation in natural bacterioplankton communities

In this paper, we developed a method to infer interactions community members in bacterial populations that degrade chitin, a highly abundant marine sugar. We took an evolutionary approach, detecting genes that co-evolve with chitinases (the enzymes that degrade chitin), and classifying organisms based on their repertoires of both chitinases and the genes that co-evolve with them. Using ~60 isolates, we have shown that our approach, which is not based on prior functional annotations of proteins, is able to predict phenotype in mono- and co-culture, and even in highly complex natural communities that contain 100s of strains. Our approach is completely generalizeable to other processes, and opens up novel avenues to analyze genomic and metagenomic data

Research Interests

Genetics, Evolution, Ecology, Sociomicrobiology

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Shaul Pollak