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Microbial Studies of Cellular Decision-making

2/28/2013

Microbial Studies of Cellular Decision-making

2/28/2013

Investigator: Dr. Jeff Gore
Position: Assistant Professor of Physics
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Project title: "Microbial Studies of Cellular Decision-Making: Game Theory and the Evolutionary Origins of Cooperation."
Award amount: $1.5 million

How did you become interested in researching "evolutionary game theory"?
I have always been fascinated by evolutionary game theory, which studies how organisms evolve to respond to situations that might require "strategic thinking". Indeed in college I gave Richard Dawkins's book "The Selfish Gene" as a birthday gift to a friend. I never anticipated working in the field, however, because the quantitative connection between these ideas and natural animal populations was tenuous. Working with microbes allows us to closely integrate experiments in the lab with ideas that I think are really beautiful.

How might your research "move the needle" in the field of biology?
One of the questions addressed by my ADI project is to gain a better understanding of the conditions required for the evolution of cooperative behaviors, particularly given the presence of "cheater strategies." Interestingly, the challenges faced by microbial populations when they collectively break down a food source are not so dissimilar to the challenges faced by humans when engaged in collective action.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of your ADI grant cycle?
I aim to use my ADI funding to obtain a quantitative understanding of how single microbial cells implement strategies required for survival in different sugar environments.

What challenges do pioneering researchers face today?
A primary challenge facing researchers interested in non-traditional topics is how to find the right intellectual home and community. I believe it is therefore very important to have institutional support for various cross-departmental structures to bring like-minded researchers together.

What experience can you share that may encourage others to go into the sciences?
Two years ago I bought a house, and at the housewarming party one of my graduate students said, "May you enjoy your new house as much as you enjoy your job."

"I am extremely grateful to the Allen Foundation for supporting our work. As a physicist applying ideas from game theory to understand cellular decision-making, I find that traditional funding organizations often don't know how to classify our work." Dr. Jeff Gore

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