Morten Otto Alexander Sommer
Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability
Our work is broadly aimed towards understanding how biological systems establish, organize and evolve. We use cutting edge technology and aim to translate our basic research findings into entities, policies and education that provide long term benefits to society.
Evolution is rendering our medicines against many infections useless threatening to bring us back to the pre-antibiotic era. In many cases resistance to a particular antibiotic did not evolve within the resistant human pathogen, but rather was acquired by lateral gene transfer from other resistant bacteria. These resistant donor bacteria need not be pathogenic, yet they contribute to the evolution of antibiotic resistance in human pathogens by serving as an accessible reservoir of resistance genes. We are using a variety of culture-dependent and culture-independent methods to characterize how these reservoirs are interacting, with the ultimate goal of creating quantitative models for how antibiotic resistance genes arise in human pathogens. We study the adaptive mechanisms of drug resistance and collateral sensitivity using a combination of laboratory evolution and sampling of clinical isolates, with the goal of developing novel treatment strategies for countering resistance development.
Synthetic biology for sustainable generation of value chemicals
Increasing concerns related to climate change caused by our reliance on fossil fuels for many processes in our society prompt the need to look for alternatives. Biological systems can be engineered to perform conversions of renewable input substrates to value added products using much less energy than conventional methods. We use a variety of metagenomic and culture based techniques for harnessing biological diversity useful for generation of biofuels and other value chemicals. We build synthetic selection networks that sense and respond to specific metabolites inside the cell. We deploy these tools for pathway discovery, strain optimization for specific metabolic engineering targets. We use synthetic selection systems for multiplexed interrogation of biological phenotypes enhancing our understanding of cellular metabolism and regulation.
Human microbiome and engineered microbiome therapeutics
The human microbiome is to an increasing extent being implicated in a wide range of disease and health states. We study the human microbiome during interventions, with a particular focus on antibiotic treatment and resulting microbiome modulation. We design and build new interventions for modulating the microbiome to promote specific community compositions or functionality. We also design and build interventions that can amend the functionality encoded in the gut microbiome.