People

Andrew D. Letten

Andrew is a population biologist in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland, Australia. A broad goal of his research is to understand the effect of environmental variability on the stability of ecological communities. At the same time, in order to deliver on this broader goal, he is working to scale up understanding from simple tractable systems to the more complex dynamics of real world-systems.

Before joining UQ, he was a Marie Curie fellow working with Jonathan Levine and Alex Hall at ETH Zurich (2018-2020), a postdoctoral fellow in Daniel Stouffer’s lab at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand (2017-2018), and a CEHG (Centre for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics) postdoctoral fellow in Tad Fukami’s lab at Stanford University, USA (2015-2017). He did his PhD (2011-2015) with David Keith in the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Australia; Masters of Environmental Science and Law at the University of Sydney, Australia (2011); and BSc (Hons) Ecology with Jeremy Midgley and Tony Verboom at the University of Cape Town, South Africa (2002-2005).

Joshua Bloomfield – Honours Student

Straight out of high school Josh knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, theatre. After establishing himself in the Brisbane theatre scene, one of Josh’s friends lent him Sean B. Carroll’s The making of the fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution. He knew then the next logical step in his career, do a triple major with a focus on evolutionary science. Josh completed a Bachelor of Science and Art in 2021 having majored in Biochemistry, Psychology and Sociology.

Josh’s interest in evolutionary science drew him to work on a semester project with Andrew and Jan Engelstätder. Now doing his honours under their joint supervision he is researching the interactions and competition between probiotic and pathogenic urinary tract bacteria. His research will help explore the usage of probiotics as an alternative treatment for urinary tract infection. Armed with a flair for the dramatic and a passion for science, Josh is eager to both research and communicate evolution and microbiology.

Matt Contarini– Honours Student

I studied computer science for two years before changing my focus to biology. This resulted in me completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in Ecology and Conservation Biology and a minor in Computer Science in July 2022. Utilising this combination of skills, I am now undertaking an Honours project, supervised by Andrew Letten and Jan Engelstätder, exploring the potential applications of machine learning in predicting resistance mutations and competitive traits from bacterial growth curves.

John Saxon – Research Assistant

John’s interest in the intersection of biology and mathematical modelling led him to join the lab for a summer project. While the field of microbial evolution presented a steep learning curve to a student of human anatomy and physiology, John was fascinated by how classic mathematics, such as the Lotka-Volterra and Michaelis-Menton models, would appear so cleanly in experimental microbial systems. During the project, John developed an expertise for operating the Chi.bio chemostat system. He’s now back in the lab working to improve, adapt and customise this system to enable future experiments with more complex, yet tractable, microbial communities.

Andrew Tuck – Lab Manager (Letten and Engelstaedter labs)

Andrew started his career in Science late in life, after reading and studying fields including nutrition, disease and ageing for several years. After obtaining a First-Class Honours Degree in Biochemistry, he has worked at various capacities across the Queensland Brain Institute, the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, and the School of Biological Sciences. For several years, he worked on the issue of the genetics of resistance to the fumigant gas phosphine in Paul Ebert’s lab in the School of Biological Sciences, where he helped to characterise resistance in the insect species Rhyzopertha dominica and Tribolium castaneum, as well as the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. During this time, he acquired the skills of Lab Management and Workplace Health and Safety, as well as helping to supervise and train over 28 PhD, Master’s and Honour’s students.

Alicia Williams – Honours Student

While completing my undergraduate degree in microbiology, I became fascinated by environmental microbiology and the role bacteria play in communities. For my Honours project, I am studying the fitness costs of antibiotic resistance mutations in E. coli under different resource regimes. My research will hopefully help to answer the fundamental question of how resistant and sensitive bacteria coexist in communities, which has numerous applications in ecology, agriculture and healthcare.