Photo: Mikael Sjöberg

Stefany Moreno Gamez

Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA


How bacteria navigate varying environments – Collective sensing and phenotypic diversification aid response to environmental fluctuations

DOI: 10.1126/science.adf4444


From variations in resource availability to the appearance of stressors like antibiotics, in nature bacteria are continuously navigating dynamic environments. While bacteria can rapidly adapt by genetic mutation, sometimes fluctuations occur over very short time scales that require alternative adaptive strategies. I found that bacteria can cope with rapid change by collectively sensing the environment through the secretion of autoinducers that accumulate at different rates dependent on how cells perceive their surroundings and average out the noise inherent to individual sensing. In addition, bacteria can also adapt to fluctuations by diversifying phenotypically in a way that guarantees that some individuals will always survive even if the environment changes in an unpredictable manner.


Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, Stefany received her BSc from the University of los Andes and later moved to Europe where she completed the Erasmus Mundus Master Program in Evolutionary Biology. She then carried out her doctoral research at the University of Groningen and ETH Zurich where she studied how bacteria cope with antibiotics and communicate with one another using quorum sensing. For this work she has received several awards including the Jonh Maynard Smith prize in 2021.

Currently, Stefany is a postdoctoral fellow at MIT supported by the James S. McDonnell foundation and the Dutch Research Council. She is interested in understanding the role of the microbiome on human health and her ongoing work focuses on how dietary and host-derived glycans shape ecological and evolutionary dynamics in the gut microbiome.