Joy Bergelson, Ph.D.


  • Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolution
  • Professor, Committee on Evolutionary Biology, Committee on Genetics, Committee on Microbiology


Ph.D., University of Washington, 1990

M. Phil, University of York, 1986

Sc.B, Brown University, 1984


The University of Chicago
EBC 105
1103 East 57th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Phone:  (773) 702-3855


Our main focus is on interactions between the host plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, and the community of bacteria that inhabit it. We are interested in understanding how the ecology of these interactions shapes evolutionary trajectories, and how evolutionary change in turn impacts ecology. Our studies combine molecular evolutionary investigations with functional genomics under natural field conditions, and in that sense are broadly interdisciplinary

Pathogen Host Co-Evolution

Pathogens enjoy the benefit of rapid generation times and enormous population sizes, yet hosts don’t typically die of infection in nature. How do they manage to resist attack despite the potential for ever-escalating arms races? We have found that A. thaliana harbors many ancient balanced polymorphisms at R-genes involved in the recognition of pathogens, and that these polymorphisms are maintained long-term amidst complex ecological interactions. Our current focus is on how the (co)evolution of generalists differs from specialists, and how we can understand pathogen host interactions in the face of community complexity.

Plant Microbiome

We should view ourselves as vessels for thousands of microbial species, and the same is true for higher plants. These microbes have the potential to profoundly impact the health of their hosts, raising the tantalizing possibility that hosts control the structure of resident microbial communities. We use GWAS mapping to determine the host factors that shape microbial communities growing within field grown accessions of A. thaliana, and use controlled experiments to test the importance of candidate host factors in shaping these microbial communities. We also explore species interactions with the aim of understanding community assembly across host genotypes. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance plant resistance by favoring resident microbes that resist pathogens.

Research Papers in PubMed