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Vivek Mutalik is a synthetic biologist who studies biochemical energy and uses tools to understand how bacteria survive in their environment.

He’s currently focused on bacteriophages. He discusses

  • Investigating how bacteria survive phages including bacterial defenses,
  • How phages subvert these bacterial defenses in turn, creating an arms race, and 
  • Applications these studies can be used for, from therapeutic treatments like phage therapy to diagnostic tools to industrial eradications of biofilms.

Vivek Mutalik is a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division as well as the Biological Systems and Engineering Division. He works with two key questions: how do phages and bacteria interact and how can scientists engineer phages.

The goals connecting these foundational and engineering aspects include using phages for microbiome work and for eliminating pathogens. He explains his work studying the genes and mechanistics of bacteriophages by first giving an overview of the vast diversity and huge number of phages. He remarks that scientists know that they are virtually everywhere on earth, yet hardly know anything about their impact.

He explains that there are different types of phages, some that infect specific bacteria and some that are broad spectrum, able to target lots of different bacteria. He says that while we don’t understand how this specificity happens and what their design rule is—the key of phage biology—his research hopes to change this and better understand the engineering of these phages.

His research studies the phages’ genes to understand which genes encode which function. He explains some techniques and findings in more detail and says we need to understand this foundation to manipulate the microbiome so practitioners can get rid of specific microbes, not healthy ones, with precision.

To find out more, find him on twitter as @vivek_mutalik and see his lab web site: biosciences.lbl.gov/profiles/vivek-mutalik/

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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