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William Harcombe

Assistant Professor


lab website

Ph.D., University of Texas - Austin, 2009


Microbial communities drive processes ranging from human health to global nutrient cycling.  Furthermore, there is great hope that the power of microbial consortia can be harnessed to generate biofuels and novel pharmaceuticals. Despite the clear importance of microbes we remain largely ignorant about how the physiology and ecological interactions of cells shape the content, function and evolutionary dynamics of microbial communities.  My lab uses synthetic communities to mechanistically dissect the interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes across multiple levels of biological organization.  Additionally, we use computational approaches to quantitatively investigate how the behavior of metabolic networks influences the emergent properties of complex systems from cells and ecosystems.

Selected Publications
Chubiz, L, Granger, BR Segre D, Harcombe, W. 2015. Species interactions differ in their genetic robustness. Frontiers in Microbiology. 6:271
Harcombe, W.R.*, Riehl, W*., Dukovski, I., Granger, B.R. Betts, A., Lang, A.H. Bonilla, G., Kar, A., Leiby, N., Mehta, P., Marx, C.J., Segre, D. 2014 Predicting the spatio-temporal dynamics of microbial community metabolism. Cell Reports 7(4):1104-1115.

Plucain, J. Hindre, T., Le Gac M., Tenaillon, O., Cruvioller, S., Medigue, C., Leiby. N., Harcombe, W.R., Marx, C.J., Lenski, R., Schnedier, D. 2014. Epistasis and allele specificity in the emergence of a stable polymorphism in Escherichia coli. Science 343(6177):1366-1369.  

Harcombe, W.R., Delaney, N.F., Leiby, N., Klitgord, N. & Marx, C.J. 2013. The ability of flux balance analysis to predict evolution of central metabolism scales with the initial distance to the optimum. PLoS Computional Biology. 9(6):e1003091.

Harcombe, W.R. 2010. Novel cooperation experimentally evolved between species. Evolution. 64(7) 2166-2172.

Harcombe, W.R., Springman, R. & Bull, J.J. 2009. Partial conservation of compensatory evolution in phages deleted for a DNA metabolism gene. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 9(1):106

Cowperthwaite, M.C., Economo, E.P., Harcombe, W.R., Miller, E.L., & Meyers, L.A. 2008. A simple rule shapes phenotypic evolution. PLoS: Computational Biology. 4(7):e1000110

Weeks A.R., Turelli M., Harcombe W.R., Reynolds K.T., & Hoffmann A.A. 2007. From parasite to mutualist: Rapid evolution of Wolbachia in natural populations of Drosophila. PLoS: Biology. 17:5

Harcombe, W.R. & Bull, J.J. 2005. Impact of phages on a two-species bacterial community.  Applied and Environmental Microbiology 71, 5254-5259.

612-301-1164 Fax: 612-624-6777

208 Ecology
1954 Buford Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108