William R. Harcombe

Assistant Professor

Research Summary

Evolutionary Ecology of Microbial SystemsMicrobial communities drive processes ranging from human health to global nutrient cycling.  Furthermore, there is great hope that the power of microbial consortia can be harnessed to generate biofuels and novel pharmaceuticals. Despite the clear importance of microbes we remain largely ignorant about how the physiology and ecological interactions of cells shape the content, function and evolutionary dynamics of microbial communities.  My lab uses synthetic communities to mechanistically dissect the interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes across multiple levels of biological organization.  Additionally, we use computational approaches to quantitatively investigate how the behavior of metabolic networks influences the emergent properties of complex systems from cells to ecosystems.


• Harcombe, W.R.*, Riehl, W*., Dukovski, I., Granger, B.R. Betts, A., Lang, A.H. Bonilla, G., Kar, A., Leiby, N., Mehta, P., Marx, C.J., Segre, D. 201.4 Predicting the spatio-temporal dynamics of microbial community metabolism. Cell Reportsaccepted
• Plucain, J. Hindre, T., Le Gac M., Tenaillon, O., Cruvioller, S., Medigue, C., Leiby. N., Harcombe, W.R., Marx, C.J., Lenski, R., Schnedier, D. 2014. Epistasis and allele specificity in the emergence of a stable polymorphism in Escherichia coli. Science 343(6177):1366-1369.
• Harcombe, W.R. Delaney, N.F., Leiby, N., Klitgord, N. & Marx, C.J. 2013. The ability of flux balance analysis to predict evolution of central metabolism scales with the initial distance to the optimum. PLoS Computional Biology. 9(6):e1003091.
• Harcombe, W.R. 2010. Novel cooperation experimentally evolved between species. Evolution. 64(7) 2166-2172"