Ana Duarte

MIT Department: Physics

Undergraduate Institution: University of Washington, Seattle

Faculty Mentor: Jeff Gore

Research Supervisor: Clare Abreu

2018 Research Poster


Understanding the fundamental nature of how the world works fascinates me; this is why I am captivated by the study of physics. I am a rising senior at the University of Washington currently pursuing a bachelor degree in physics. Here, I have conducted research in neurobiology to better understand the role glial cells play in maximizing neuron survival, and I am currently doing research in coherent elastic neutrino-nucleus scattering. I hope to continue research in later life and teach physics as well; so naturally, I am striving to obtain a PhD in physics. Outside of academics, I love to dance and have explored many dance forms such as tap, ballet, jazz, modern, and hip-hop!

2018 Research Abstract

Tradeoff Between Competitive Ability and Growth Rate in a Naturally Occurring Microbial Community

Ana Isabel Duarte1, Clare Abreu2 and Jeff Gore3

1Department of Physics, University of Washington

2, 3Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Microbial communities are essential to numerous biological systems from aquatic and land ecosystems to the human gut. Our understanding of interactions among bacterial strains can help us understand how these communities form and function. Such interactions may depend on the species themselves but can also be sensitive to the abiotic environment. Harsh environments, where mortality is increased, can reverse the outcome of a competition between species. Simple models predict that increasing mortality favors faster growers, and past experiments repeatedly confirmed this prediction. In these pairwise competition experiments, slow growers excluded fast growers in low-mortality environments, but increasing mortality caused fast growers to dominate. A necessary condition for observing the reversal is that slow growers are good competitors in low-mortality, high-density environments. While this tradeoff between growth rate and competitive ability was common in well-characterized lab strains of bacteria, it was unclear if it might exist elsewhere. In this project, we tested for the existence of a growth/competition tradeoff in a natural community of bacteria collected from MIT’s Killian Court. Contrary to past results and some evidence from the literature, we found a weak positive correlation between competitive ability and growth rate, which does not support the idea of a tradeoff.