Distinguishing between Self and Other: Q&A with Dr. Karine Gibbs

Dr. Karine Gibbs
Dr. Karine Gibbs

How do you distinguish between self and other? That’s the question Dr. Karine Gibbs, an Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, is trying to answer. Using the bacterium Proteus mirabilis as a model, Gibbs and colleagues are working to understand how bacteria discriminate self from non-self.

P. mirabilis is the culprit in most catheter-related urinary tract infections (UTIs). But UTIs aren’t the bacteria’s only talent. When migrating as a swam across a surface, populations of the bacteria display a remarkable phenomenon: swarms of the same strain merge, while swarms of different strains form a visible boundary between each other. This behavior suggests that P. mirabilis swarms are capable of self vs. non-self recognition leading to territoriality .

Looking for the molecular mechanisms underlying this ability, the Gibbs lab has identified a set of genes in P. mirabilis that encodes the components necessary for self vs. non-self recognition. Martha Henry sat down with Dr. Gibbs in her office in Harvard’s BioLabs to talk about the work.

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