Matthew Traxler

2017 Hellman Fellow

Assistant Professor, Plant and Microbial Biology
UC Berkeley

Project Title: Mining Unexplored Microbiomes for Antibiotics Discovery using Mass Spectral Imaging

Research Summary:
Antimicrobial natural products from bacteria have been the frontline defense in the struggle against bacterial infections, and have also found wide use as antifungals, anthelminthics, anti-cancer drugs, and immunosupressants. One group of bacteria, the actinomycetes, has been the deepest source of these natural products, and they have the genetic capacity to give us many more. However, a major obstacle is that the average actinomycete produces only a small fraction of its natural product repertoire under normal laboratory conditions. This suggests that we lack a fundamental understanding of how these remarkable molecules, including antibiotics, function in natural settings. The goals of our work are to understand the ecological drivers of antibiotic biosynthesis by actinomycetes, and to subsequently use this knowledge to accelerate natural products discovery. To this end, funding from the Hellman Fellows Fund will enable us to continue building a research program that examines antibiotic biosynthesis by actinomycetes across multiple ecological contexts, including within microbiomes. This program takes advantage of a novel set of mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) methodologies we are developing and combines it with microscopy. These data will be interpreted in the context of theoretical microbial ecology. The cumulative result will be a much deeper picture of the role antimicrobial compounds play in natural settings, which will enable us to rationally rethink and re-invigorate current natural products discovery efforts.