Microbes rarely live alone. In the ocean, the soil, and the human body, microbes live within complex, multi-species communities. Yet, due to their complexity, it is often extremely difficult to understand how these communities work. To address this challenge, our lab has taken the approach of using simplified microbial communities as model systems.

The goal of our work is to understand the basic mechanisms that are at play within microbial communities, such as those that drive species interactions, and to identify general principles of community formation.

Our model system of choice is cheese. 

The microbial communities of cheese are relatively simple, easily culturable, rich in species interactions, and undergo reproducible dynamics of community assembly. Our previous work has focused on establishing an experimental system for building, manipulating, and studying these communities in the lab. We are now working to capitalize on this experimental system to identify molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the formation of a microbial community, and to better understand what happens when this process goes wrong.

As a result of our work in this simplified system, we aim to provide the scientific community with hypotheses, tools, and strategies for understanding and manipulating more complex microbial communities. 

The Dutton Lab is located at UC San Diego in beautiful La Jolla, California. We are part of the Section of Molecular Biology, in the Division of Biological Sciences.


  • June 2016: 
    • Dutton lab graduate students, Emily Pierce and Brooke Anderson, were selected to be part of the NIH-funded Cell and Molecular Genetics Training Program at UCSD! 
  • May 2016: 
    • The Dutton lab has it's first graduate students!!!! Emily Pierce and Brooke Anderson join the lab! Both are in the Division of Biological Sciences PhD Program. 
    • Rachel traveled to Mexico City to speak at the MicrobiomeMx conference. 
    • Rachel gave a public lecture for UCLA's Science and Food series, together with Sandor Katz and Elaine Hsiao.
  • April 2016: 
    • Rachel was the student-invited speaker for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Colombia, Vancouver
    • Rachel gave a public lecture for the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute's "Science Matters" series together with Aimee Dudley
  • March 2016: 
    • Rachel was the student-invited speaker for the Department of Ecology & Evolution at the University of Chicago
  • February 2016: 
    • Benjamin Wolfe and Rachel make an appearance in Episode 4 of the Netflix documentary, Cooked, based on the book by Michael Pollan! Check it out if you like microbes and fermented foods!
  • January 2016: 
    • Rachel teamed up with the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center, Venissimo Cheese, and Green Flash Brewery for an evening of science, cheese, and beer in the new Cellar 3 tasting room. We had some amazing beer+cheese pairings!
    • Rachel gave a talk at the Aspen Center for Physics conference on Populations, Evolution, and Physics. 
  • December 2015: 
    • Manon Morin joins the lab as a postdoc! She completed her PhD in Toulouse and Grenoble, and is a fellow of the INRA and INRIA.
    • Rachel is the student-invited speaker for the UW-Madison Microbiology Doctoral Training Program fall seminar. 
    • Rachel gave a plenary talk at the American Society of Cell Biology Annual Conference. 
  • November 2015: 
    • Rachel is named a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and spoke at the Kavli Fronteirs in Science symposium.
  • October 2015:
    • UCSD announces the Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative led by Rob Knight and Kit Pogliano. Rachel will serve on the Leadership Committee. 
    • Rachel is the keynote speaker at the Washington University of St. Louis Plant and Microbial Biology Program retreat. 
  • Sept 2015: