Rebecca Satterwhite

Photo by the incomparable Dr. Tim Morton

I am a PhD candidate in my sixth year at UChicago. I use microbes and molecular genetic techniques to answer questions about how evolution works in light of ecology. I consider myself very fortunate to belong to the diverse & incredibly bright group of researchers in Bergelson Lab!

My dissertation projects test the extent to which host ecology influences genome evolution in the plant-pathogen Pseudomonas syringae. I chose an experimental system of 6 strains of P. syringae paired with their native hosts, which include crop cultivars as well as the model host plant,  Arabidopsis thaliana. First, I test for local adaptation in this system by measuring growth of each pathogen in its own & in each other’s native hosts. Second, I test whether each pathogen’s specific complement of accessory genes has adaptive potential by repeating the reciprocal inoculation with transposon mutant libraries of each pathogen. I am now tracking changes in pathogen gene frequencies over the course of infection, and developing a custom analysis pipeline with my wonderful labmate and collaborator Hanna Maerkle. I am at an exciting and fast-paced time in my PhD, and look forward to sharing my results!

Before moving to Chicago,  I worked with Dr. Tim Cooper at the University of houston to earn my M.S. and produce two publications: one on costs of adaptation in specialists vs generalists (Evolution 2015), and the other on epistasis between mutations along an adaptive trajectory (Nature Ecology and Evolution 2017).

Photo by fabulous field assistant Ellie Newman
Field collection 2017: using sterile technique out of the trunk of my car


2021 Ph.D. (expected) Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago. Advisor: Dr. Joy Bergelson. “Ecological adaptation & the genomic basis of pathogenicity in natural isolates of Pseudomonas syringae

2013 M.S. Biology, Ecology and Evolution track, University of Houston. Advisor: Dr. Tim Cooper. “Experimental evolution with Escherichia coli in diverse resource environments: Jacks of all trades become masters of none”

2011 B.A. English, minor in Biology, University of Houston. Advisor: Dr. Tony Frankino.


Wünsche, A., Dinh, D. M., Satterwhite, R. S., Arenas, C. D., Stoebel, D. M., & Cooper, T. F. (2017). Diminishing-returns epistasis decreases adaptability along an evolutionary trajectory. Nature Ecology & Evolution1, 0061.

Satterwhite, Rebecca and Tim F. Cooper. 2015. Constraints on adaptation of E. coli to mixed-resource environments increase over time. Evolutiondoi: 10.1111/evo.12710.