Katie Dickinson

Katie Dickinson

Current Research

I am assisting with the development and implementation of authentic research labs to be incorporated into the introductory biology series at the UW (HHMI 'STEM Dawgs' project). These course-based undergraduate research experiences (CURE) - are based on experimental evolution in the bacterium Escherichia coli.

  • In the first set of labs students will explore evolution of antibiotic resistance and collateral effects by exposing E.coli to specific drug regimes and assessing competitive fitness and the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of isolates. These modules highlights evolutionary phenomena from a population level.
  • In the second series of labs, students will analyze the products of their own evolution experiments (evolved bacterial isolates from the first course). Activities include: PCR/gel of a candidate gene, DNA sequence analysis, exploring protein sequence and structure analysis.

The goal is to enabling students to trace genotype to phenotype at the cellular level, and connect evolution to molecular biology. It will also seek to engage early-career undergraduates in work that represents cutting edge science, potentially has applications for public health, and helps builds confidence and skills for high achievement in this and future science courses. In addition, we seek to improve the retention of undergraduates interested in STEM majors, with a particular emphasis on underrepresented minority students, women in male-dominated fields, and students from economically- and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

This work is also partially funded by BEACON.

Read my blog post Food for thought: research-based courses replace regurgitation with digestion!

Other/Past Research Interests

I am interested in exploring the evolution of social behaviors, such as altruism, cooperation, communication, spite etc. Altruism appears to be the opposite of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Why would an organism improve the fitness of another at a cost to itself? Yet, cooperation and altruism is widespread in nature. A fascinating question is how cooperation or altruist behavior can evolve and be maintained in the presence of “cheaters,” individuals who take but do not contribute.

My research focused on the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa which is an opportunistic pathogen and can cause of disease for immunocompromised people (such as burns victims). It is also the major cause of lung infection in people with cystic fibrosis. In particular, I am interested in the social lives of bacteria and their consequences for disease, the evolution of virulence, and antibiotic resistance.


Negative niche construction favors the evolution of cooperation BD Connelly, KJ Dickinson, SP Hammarlund, B Kerr Evolutionary Ecology 30 (2), 267-283 1 2016

The evolution of cooperation by the Hankshaw effect SP Hammarlund, BD Connelly, KJ Dickinson, B Kerr Evolution 70 (6), 1376-1385

Further Work

In addition to doing research I also serve as:

  • The Kerr lab manager
  • UW BEACON administrator

The BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action is an NSF Science and Technology Center, headquartered at Michigan State University with partners at North Carolina A&T State University, University of Idaho, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Washington. More about BEACON here: https://www3.beacon-center.org/


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