The overall goal of my research is to unravel how bacteria adapt to different environments and to take advantage of what we learn to improve our ability to control crop diseases in a way that benefits farmers, consumer, and the environment alike.
Research on Airborne Ice Nucleating Species (RAINS)
Microorganisms are abundant in the atmosphere and may play an important role in controlling cloud development, cloud chemistry and ultimately weather patterns. They do this primarily by producing proteins that catalyze the formation (nucleation) of ice crystals at significantly warmer temperatures than would normally be required for ice formation (-2°C vs. -36°C). Despite the atmosphere’s fundamental role in their dispersal, the abundance, diversity and flux of microorganisms in the atmosphere remain largely unknown. The potential of ice-nucleating microorganisms to significantly impact meteorology and promote microbial dispersal during precipitation events motivates this research. The RAINS project will sample rain, snow and air samples at ground level, and in the lower atmosphere using remote-controlled aircraft. The project will: (1) characterize microbial taxonomic diversity, including in precipitation that occurred between 1794 AD and present, and which is preserved in glacial ice; (2) determine the genetic diversity of microbial assemblages and of individual ice nucleating bacteria and (3) examine the functional diversity with respect to the role of precipitation and biological ice nucleation on patterns of microbial distribution. The work will also determine which microbes carried to the Earth-s surface via precipitation present possible inoculum sources for diseases that impact humans, domestic animals, and plants. This is an NSF-funded project in collaboration with David Schmale (Virginia Tech), Cindy Morris (INRA France), Brent Christner (Louisiana State University), and Carolyn Weber (Idaho State University).
CAREER: What is behind the worldwide success of Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato: a comparative evolutionary genomics investigation.
The ability of organism to adapt to new niches becomes a primary concern to our society when it involves the specialization of pathogens to humans, farm animals, or crops. Little is known about how plant pathogens, which were adapted to natural mixed-plant communities in pre-agricultural times, evolved into today's highly aggressive pathogens of crops cultivated in monoculture. To fill this void, in this project we aim at identifying the molecular evolutionary mechanisms that allow pathogens to specialize to specific plant species and to become more aggressive. The bacterial plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato (the cause of bacterial speck disease of tomato worldwide) and closely related bacteria, are the focus of our research. A multidisciplinary approach of comparative evolutionary genomics, population genetics, and microbial genetics is applied leveraging the latest advances in biological sciences and computer sciences. Research and education are integrated in the project through the undergraduate course in Microbial Forensics and Biosecurity and the creation of internship opportunities for undergraduates in our lab. It is anticipated that our research will uncover genomic changes that occurred in P. syringae pv. tomato during its evolution since the advent of agriculture and that have led to its current aggressiveness and worldwide distribution. Results from this research are expected to constitute the basis for the development of new hypotheses on the evolution of bacterial pathogens in general and to be instrumental in future breeding and engineering of disease resistant crops. Easy access to obtained results is provided through web-accessible databases. Check out our P. syringae pv. tomato T1 genome website and our multilocus sequence typing database and website PAMDB. This is an NSF-funded project.
Ph.D., Cellular and Molecular Biotechnology, University of Bologna, Italy (2000)
M.S. and B.S., Agricultural Sciences, University of Bologna, Italy (1995)
Besides formal classroom teaching I advice undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs in my lab. I love interacting with students at all different levels of experience and see students grow scientifically and personally while their lives and mine cross here for a while in my lab at Virginia Tech.
The goal of my outreach program is to bring research to high school students. For example, high school students have contributed to one of our research papers by collecting Pseudomonas syringae bacteria from plants around their school.
Clarke CR, Studholme DJ, Weisberg A, Hayes B, Runde B, Cai R, Wroblewski T, Daunay MC, Castillo J, Wicker E, Vinatzer BA (2015) Genome-enabled phylogeographic investigation of the quarantine pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 and screening for sources of resistance against its core effectors. Phytopathology. DOI: 10.1094/PHYTO-12-14-0373-R
Vinatzer BA, Monteil CL (2014) Pseudomonas syringae Genomics: From Comparative Genomics of Individual Crop Pathogen Strains Toward Population Genomics. In: Genomics of Plant-Associated Bacteria. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer. Editors: Editors: Gross, DC, Lichens-Park A, Kole C. Pages: 79-98.