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Dr. Gayle Ferguson

B.Sc.(Hons), Ph.D., PGCTLHE


physical: Building 14.09 // The Station Crescent // Oteha Rohe
tel: +64 9 4140800 ext 41515 // email: g.c.ferguson(at)


I completed my PhD research with Dr Jack Heinemann at University of Canterbury in 2002, where I demonstrated antibiotic resistance gene-transmission between Salmonella typhimurium resident within cultured human cells by bacterial conjugation - a phenomenon potentially contributory to the spread of antibiotic resistance genes in the gut environment.  From Sept 2002 - Feb 2004 I was a Postdoctoral Fellow with Dr Howard Shuman at Columbia University in New York.  Here, I investigated the mechanism of pathogenesis of the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, the causative agent of Legionnaire’s disease, focusing in particular on the mechanism of pathogenic protein translocation from bacteria to human phagocytic cells by Type IV secretion.  In 2004 I moved to the UK and took up a position as ‘Teaching Fellow’ in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester. I returned to research in May 2008 when I joined the Rainey lab as a FRST Postdoctoral Fellow.  In Oct 2011 I was appointed to the position of Senior Tutor in the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Massey University.


My primary interests are in understanding the underlying genetic bases of adaptive evolution and how phenotypic change is effected at the molecular level.

The Fuzzy Spreader project: When inoculated into a static broth microcosm Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 rapidly diversifies into a range of niche specialists - ‘wrinkly spreaders’ form a self-supporting mat at the air-liquid interface, ‘smooth’ morphs colonise the broth phase, and ‘Fuzzy Spreaders’ form rafts of cells at the air-liquid interface that flocculate and drop to the microcosm floor.  Previous work has established that these three dominant morphotypes are maintained by negative frequency-dependent interactions.  My work has focused on the genetic dissection of the fuzzy spreader type and characterisation of its colonisation strategy. 

The Switcher project: In order to survive widely varying conditions, bacterial populations must possess mechanisms for rapid adaptation through the generation of phenotypic novelty. In an experiment where P. fluorescens SBW25 was subjected to repeated bouts of selection in two alternating environments we saw the emergence of types that had acquired the capacity to switch indefinitely between two bistable phenotypic states.  My work focuses on exploration of how environmental fluctuations experienced over differing periods of time might lead to ‘fine-tuning’ of the phenotypic switch mechanism to deliver switching at optimal rates and/or in response to environmental cues. 


I coordinate the following papers: 196.217 Evolutionary Biology; 162.103 Introductory Biology; and 199.101 Biology of Animals and, in addition, teach into 246.102 Core Skills for Natural Scientists, 122.233 Metabolic Biochemistry, and 120.101 Biology of Plants.

I am the Associate Programme Director for the Bachelor of Natural Sciences degree.


Ferguson G.C., Bertels F. and Rainey P.B. (2013) Adaptive divergence in experimental populations of Pseudomonas fluorescens. V. Insight into the niche specialist Fuzzy Spreader compels revision of the model Pseudomonas radiation. Genetics 113.154948.

Ferguson G.C. (2012) Hedging bets for survival - how bacteria adapt to changing environments. Microbiologist 13(1): 31-4

Rainey P.B., Beaumont H.J., Ferguson G.C., Gallie J., Kost C., Libby E. and Zhang X.X. (2011) The evolutionary emergence of stochastic phenotype switching in bacteria. Microbial Cell Factories 10(Suppl 1): S14.

Beaumont H.J., Gallie J., Kost C., Ferguson G.C. and Rainey P.B. (2009) Experimental evolution of bet hedging. Nature 462(7269): 90-3.

Ferguson G.C., Sheader E. and Grady R. (2008) Computer-assisted and peer assessment: A combined approach to assessing first year laboratory practical classes for large numbers of students. Bioscience Education e-Journal 11: 4

Silby, M.W., Ferguson, G.C., Billington, C. and Heinemann, J.A. (2007) Localization of the plasmid-encoded proteins TraI and MobA in eukaryotic cells. Plasmid 57(2): 118-130

Ferguson, G.C., Kennedy, M.A. and Heinemann, J.A. (2002) Gene transfer between Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium inside epithelial cells. J. Bacteriol. 184, 2235-2242.

Ferguson, G.C. and Heinemann, J.A. (2002) A Recent History of Trans-kingdom Conjugation, in ‘Horizontal Gene Transfer’ 2nd Edition, Eds. Syvanen, M. and Kado, C.I. p. 3-17.

Gayle Ferguson