New EAM Member: Prof. Isabel Gordo


At the end of 2019, the European Academy of Microbiology (EAM) elected eleven new members from across different European countries and disciplines, who are given the opportunity to present themselves and their research at the upcoming EAM Members meeting (March 27-28 2020 in La Granja, Spain).

New EAM Members are:


This month, we spoke with Prof. Isabel Gordo at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Portugal) about her research, and the profession of a microbiologist.

What are you currently researching?

My group current research involves studying the eco-evolutionary dynamics of commensal bacteria colonizing the mammalian intestine. We have two main aims: i) understand how the fitness landscape of the gut shape the evolution occurring via mutation and/or horizontal gene transfer and ii) to discover new ways to specifically eliminate antibiotic resistant bacteria from the mammalian. Specific question that we are addressing include: How do bacteria diversify in the gut? How many strains can coexist in this complex ecosystem? How predictable is evolution in the gut?

What has been the most unusual or surprising finding in this line of research?

The most surprising finding has been the observation that the pattern of evolution of a common gut commensal, Escherichia coli, is remarkably predictable in the gut of mice, even if they carry a microbial ecosystem that can have different levels of species richness. Such observation allows a deep understanding of the metabolic preferences of E. coli colonizing the intestine and opens the opportunity for modulating strain diversity with specific prebiotics.

What aspect of this research have you most enjoyed?

The aspect that I most enjoy is the ability to be able to study evolution in a relevant ecosystem in real time. One can indeed directly observe the signatures in diversity of the predictions of population genetics theory.

What is in your opinion a scientific development microbiologists should keep an eye on?

The realisation that when we eat we feed ourselves and our microbes has raised the importance of microbiology research to medicine, far beyond the classical clinical microbiology focused on pathogens. I believe that the developments on large scale data analysis will also lead to a possible restructure of the curriculum of undergraduates studying biology and students doing a MSc or PhD in microbiology.

What information, either related to the science or the professional path of a microbiologist, do you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?

As I did my PhD in population genetics under the supervision of a Drosophila geneticist (Brian Charlesworth) I wish I would have attended more talks about how helpful microbes could be for understanding natural selection (I did attend a lecture by Bruce Levin at the start of my PhD, but now I realized I should have attended more lectures). 

About Professor Isabel Gordo

Prof. Isabel Gordo (photo by Roberto Keller).

Isabel Gordo is a principal investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Oeiras, Portugal. She graduated in Physics from the Technical University in Lisbon (IST) and received a PhD in Evolutionary Genetics with Brian Charlesworth from the University of Edinburgh in 2002. Her Postdoctoral research was carried out at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência where she then became leader of the Evolutionary Biology group in 2004. In her research she combines theoretical and empirical methods aiming at a better understanding of the major forces that shape variation in natural populations, particularly microbial populations. She uses Escherichia coli as a model organism to test theoretical predictions about the evolution of mutation rates and the genetics of adaptation. Another topic of current work focuses on the effect of epistatic interactions on fitness in the context of antibiotic resistance. In 2010 she won the ERC Starting Grant and in 2015 the FCT Investigator Consolidator Grant. She is the founder of the Portuguese Society for Evolutionary Biology, since 2014 a panel member of the ERC grants evaluation and was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 2017.

(Cover image: The colon of mice, the environment where Prof. Gordo’s team studies evolution of bacteria)

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About the EAM: The European Academy of Microbiology (EAM) is an initiative of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) aimed at amplifying the impact and visibility of microbiology and microbiologists in Europe. EAM includes leading microbiologists in their own fields and is dedicated to promote excellence in microbiology through targeted programs and activities at the edges of the discipline, and communication to scientists, stakeholders and to the public.

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