Introducing: Diane McDougald

The npj Biofilms and Microbiomes Community team asked me to introduce myself to the community by answering these 5 questions…

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1) If I had to describe what I do in 3 sentences I’d say…

My research centres around the interactions of bacteria and higher organisms in the marine environment, and how these interactions impact on persistence of organisms in the environment. For example, we know that biofilm communities on biotic and abiotic surfaces in the marine environment are better protected from heterotrophic protists that feed on these bacteria than free-swimming organisms, thus providing a mechanistic explanation for the adaptive advantage of surface-associated growth of bacteria in the environment. We also use the bacterial/protist predator/prey model as an experimental system to investigate eukaryotic defence theories as biofilms are sessile and subject to high grazing pressure much like plants or marine invertebrates, and thus their defences are likely to be similar.

2) This isn’t where I started out, however. My career path to date has looked like this…

I began my scientific career as an animal behaviourist studying birds of prey. I discovered the world of microbes as a Masters student and soon realised that bacteria are excellent models for investigations on behaviour due to their fast growth rates and complex community interactions. This led me to investigations on the adaptive responses of marine bacteria that allow them to persist. As part of this, I have been interested in bacterial cell-cell communication systems as well as chemical communication between bacteria and higher organisms such as protists, and biofilms are hot spots for these types of interactions.

3) The reason I decided to join the npj Biofilms and Microbiomes Community is…

It is great to have a dedicated place where researchers working on biofilms can share ideas and discuss current research trends, as we tend to publish in such a diverse array of journals. Having a focal point for biofilm/microbiome researchers, will facilitate focused interactions, and I find this particularly exciting!

4) My key areas of interest, on which I’d especially like to hear from community members, are…

We are currently working on the ‘Coincidental Evolution Hypothesis’ that states that factors responsible for virulence may have evolved for some purpose other than virulence to a host, i.e. virulence is a result of selection acting on the pathogen in a different environmental niche. In fact, it is now appreciated that there are a number of ‘dual use’ factors expressed by bacteria that play a role in human disease and infection, as well as providing fitness in the environment, for example, against predation. We are actively investigating these dual use factors in Vibrio cholerae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as well as the molecular pathways regulating them and the chemical cues that drive their regulation. We are also interested in the chemical anti-protozoal compounds secreted by bacterial biofilms and their potential use as novel anti-parasitics.

5) And if I had to choose one topic on which I’m especially able to answer questions it’d be…

I am particularly interested in predatory/prey interactions of marine bacterial biofilms, and as part of this also have expertise in biofilms and signalling. I also have significant expertise in the adaptive responses of marine bacteria that allow for persistence in the environment.

If you are interested in my areas of research, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment below, send me a message or ask a question via Q&A.

Diane McDougald

Associate Professor, Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering

Asst. Prof. McDougald has made significant contributions to the fields of Vibrio biology, bacterial adaptation to stress and mechanisms of molecular control of these responses, cell-to-cell communication, biofilm formation and interactions of bacteria with higher eukaryotes. Her group’s major research interest is on the investigation of mechanisms of survival and persistence of pathogens in the environment, and what impact these mechanisms have on virulence and pathogenicity in the host. They investigate the evolutionary drivers and consequences of bacterial adaptation to stresses, including interactions with higher organisms. Broadly, they study the interactions of prokaryotes and eukaryotes using a number of model systems to investigate the impact of predation by protozoa on microbial communities and how evolution of grazing defences drives the evolution of pathogenicity in the environment. Predation is an important selection pressure that pathogens face in the environment, and as a result, pathogens may evolve phenotypes that not only increase their fitness in the environment, but may also increase their fitness in the human host. This research platform will allow her group to test key aspects of the Coincidental Selection Hypothesis, which states that the virulence of many opportunistic human pathogens may be an accidental by-product of selection for adaptations not related to human disease.


Go to the profile of Jen Thoroughgood
almost 7 years ago
Welcome to the npj Biofilms and Microbiomes Community Diane!
Go to the profile of Diane McDougald
almost 7 years ago
Thanks Jen, excited to be a part of this!