Bacterial DNA Repair and Mutagenesis

Bacteria have a remarkable capacity to thrive in adverse environments. Their adaptability relies on stress responses that provide temporary protection, for example by repairing cell damage or removing toxic chemicals. Such phenotypic adaptation offers cells a window of opportunity to evolve permanent stress resistance through genetic change. Failures to cure bacterial infections with antibiotics are often due to stress responses that promote bacterial survival as well as the evolution of drug resistance.

Our lab seeks to understand how this works at the molecular level using a quantitative interdisciplinary approach. We focus on the mechanisms of DNA repair and mutagenesis, which are essential both for stress survival and for genetic change. A key aspect of our research is developing fluorescence microscopy techniques to visualise molecular events in real-time within living cells. We use super-resolution microscopy and single-molecule tracking to record the localization and movement of individual molecules such as DNA repair enzymes or transcription factors. To monitor the cellular responses to stress, we use microfluidic devices for imaging single cells. This allows us to decipher how molecular events inside cells determine long-term cell fates.

Curiously, single-cell analysis revealed that bacterial phenotypes are variable even in a constant environment, a phenomenon that may be linked to stress survival. We discovered that mutation rates are also variable due to fluctuations in the expression of DNA repair proteins. These findings open fundamental questions about the mechanisms and regulation of mutagenesis, which we are now addressing using a range of novel microscopy and genetic approaches.

Uphoff Lab | Department of Biochemistry | University of Oxford

Group Photo


A burst of mutations

May 2022

Cell stress triggers phenotypic and genetic changes. Here we show how stress responses modulate mutation rate dynamics: Adaptation delay causes a burst of mutations in bacteria responding to oxidative stress.

Genetic plasticity meets DNA repair heterogeneity

December 2021

Variation in DNA repair protein expression leads to differences in mutation rates between cells. Article now published in Nucleic Acids Research: Cellular heterogeneity in DNA alkylation repair increases population genetic plasticity.

#FEMSmicroBlog: Exposing bacteria molecule by molecule

August 2021

Amy Moores explains on the #FEMSmicroBlog how single molecule localisation microscopy techniques are playing important roles in bacteriology.

Amy Moores

February 2021

Welcome to postdoctoral scientist Amy who is focusing on microscopy development in our group.

LexA and the SOS response

June 2021

Bacteria sometimes induce the SOS DNA damage response even in the absence of stress. Why this happens and other findings revealed by a single-molecule tracking approach described in our new paper in Nature Microbiology. Free access: Imaging LexA degradation in cells explains regulatory mechanisms and heterogeneity of the SOS response.

DNA-target search

February 2021

Our new article in Molecular Cell shows that the bacterial chromosome is crowded with non-specifically bound proteins. Transient non-specific DNA binding dominates the target search of bacterial DNA-binding proteins.

Lister Prize

August 2020

Our lab has been awarded a Lister Institute Research Prize for our work on DNA repair and mutagenesis in bacteria.

DNA organization - replication - segregation

August 2021

Interplay between chromosome organization and replication fosters non-random inheritance of genetic material. Article now published in PNAS: Non-random segregation of sister chromosomes by Escherichia coli MukBEF.

Colworth Medal Lecture

April 2021

Watch Stephan's award lecture for the Biochemical Society Colworth medal on youtube: Seeing DNA repair and mutagenesis in bacteria.

Review article in Biochemical Society Transactions

March 2020

Our views on the origins and consequences of "Bacterial phenotypic heterogeneity in DNA repair and mutagenesis" are now published!

Under the Lens

We are running a journal club with other groups at Oxford, where we take recent papers on Microbial Imaging "Under the Lens". This goes together with a new regular feature in Nature Reviews Microbiology. More details can be found here.

Check the archive for older news announcements.