Boris A. Vinatzer

Professor and Interim Department Head

Program Focus

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.

Current Projects

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)


  • June 2016 - present: Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • October 2015 - present: Interim Department Head, Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • July 2010 – October 2015: Associate Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • Nov 2004 – June 2010: Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • Nov. 1999 – Sep 2004: Postdoctoral Research, Jean Greenberg Laboratory, Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, The University of Chicago
  • Jan. 1995 – Oct 1999: Graduate Research, Silviero Sansavini Laboratory, Department of Arboriculture, The University of Bologna, Italy
  • Jan. 1999 – July 1999: Visiting Scientist at the David Lightfoot Laboratory, Department of Plant, Soil and General Agriculture, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (IL)
  • Aug. 1998 – Dec 1998: Visiting Scientist at the Hong-Bin Zhang Laboratory, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and Crop Biotechnology Center at Texas A&M University, College Station (TX)
  • Jan. 1998 – July 1998: Visiting Scientist at the Cesare Gessler Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Institute of Plant Sciences, Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Sep. 1996 – Jan 1997: Visiting Scientist at the Hong-Bin Zhang Laboratory, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and Crop Biotechnology Center at Texas A&M University, College Station (TX)

Selected Major Awards

  • 2008 - NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award
  • 2005 - Virginia Tech ASPIRES (A Support Program for Innovative Research Strategies) award
  • 2002 - Postdoctoral Ruth L. Kirschstein NIH National Research Service Award
  • 1995 - Graduation "cum laude" from the University of Bologna (Italy)

Courses Taught

  • PPWS 4114 – Microbial Forensics and Biosecurity
  • PPWS 5054 – Plant Pathogenic Agents
  • PPWS 5454 – Plant Disease Physiology

Other Teaching and Advising

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.

Program Focus

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.

Recent Publications

  • 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

  • Weisberg AJ, Elmarakeby HA, Lenwood SH, Vinatzer BA (2015) Similarity-based codes sequentially assigned to ebolavirus genomes are informative of species membership, associated outbreaks, and transmission chains. Open Forum Infectious Diseases. DOI: 10.1093/ofid/ofv024
  • Pietsch RB, David RF, Marr LC, Vinatzer, BA, Schmale DG (2015)  Aerosolization of two strains of 7Pseudomonas syringae in a Collison nebulizer at different temperatures. Aerosol Science & Technology 49(3):159-166. DOI:10.1080/02786826.2015.1010636
  • Bartoli C, Lamichhane JR, Berge O, Guilbaud C, Varvaro L, Balestra GM, Vinatzer BA, Morris CE (2014) A framework to gauge the epidemic potential of plant pathogens in environmental reservoirs: the example of kiwifruit canker. Mol Plant Pathol 16(2):137-49. DOI: 10.1111/mpp.12167
  • Clarke CR, Hayes BW, Runde BJ, Wicker E, Vinatzer BA (2014) Eggplant and related species are promising genetic resources to dissect the plant immune response to Pseudomonas syringae and Xanthomonas euvesicatoria and to identify new resistance determinants. Molecular Plant Pathology DOI: 10.1111/mpp.12140
  • Marakeby H, Badr E, Torkey H, Song Y, Leman S, Monteil CL, Heath LS, Vinatzer BA (2014) A system to automatically classify and name any individual genome-sequenced organism independently of current biological classification and nomenclature. PloS ONE 9(2):e89142 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089142
  • Kumar A, Prameela TP, Suseelabhai R, Siljo A, Anandaraj M, Vinatzer BA (2014) Host specificity and genetic diversity of race 4 strains of Ralstonia solanacearum. Plant Pathology DOI: 10.1111/ppa.12189
  • Balestra GM, Taratufolo MC, Vinatzer BA, Mazzaglia A (2013) A Multiplex PCR Assay for Detection of Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae and Differentiation of Populations with Different Geographic Origin. Plant Disease 97(4):472-478
  • Clarke CR, Chinchilla D, Hind SR, Taguchi F, Miki R, Ichinose Y, Martin GB, Leman S, Felix G, Vinatzer BA (2013) Allelic variation in two distinct Pseudomonas syringae flagellin epitopes modulates the strength of plant immune responses but not bacterial motility. New Phytologist DOI: 10.1111/nph.12408
  • Monteil CL, Cai R, Liu H, Mechan Llontop ME, Leman S, Studholme DJ, Morris CE, Vinatzer BA (2013) Non-agricultural reservoirs contribute to emergence and evolution of Pseudomonas syringae crop pathogens. New Phytologist 199(3):800-11
  • Sarris PF, Trantas EA, Baltrus DA, Bull CT, Wechter WP, Yan S, Ververidis F, Almeida, NF, Jones CD, Dangl JL, Panopoulos NJ, Vinatzer BA, Goumas DE (2013) Comparative Genomics of Multiple Strains of Pseudomonas cannabina pv. alisalensis, a Potential Model Pathogen of Both Monocots and Dicots. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059366
  • Mazzaglia A, Studholme DJ, Taratufolo MC, Cai R, Almeida NF, Goodman, T, Guttman DS, Vinatzer BA, Balestra GM (2012) Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (PSA) isolates from recent bacterial canker of kiwifruit outbreaks belong to the same genetic lineage. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36518. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036518
  • Hao W, Ahonsi MO, Vinatzer BA, Hong C (2012) Inactivation of Phytophthora and bacterial species in water by a potential energy-saving heat treatment. Eur J Plant Pathol DOI: 10.1007/s10658-012-9994-4
  • Oliver CL, Cai R, Vinatzer BA, Bush EA, Hansen MA (2012) First Report of Bacterial Spot of Peony Caused by a Xanthomonas sp. in the United States. Plant Disease 96(4):581
  • Diallo MD, Monteil CL, Vinatzer BA, Clarke CR, Glaux C, Guilbaud C, Desbiez C, Morris CE. (2012) Pseudomonas syringae naturally lacking the canonical type III secretion system are ubiquitous in non agricultural habitats, are phylogenetically diverse and can be pathogenic. The ISME Journal doi:10.1038/ismej.2011.202
  • Sohn KH, Saucet SB, Clarke CR, Vinatzer BA, O'Brien HE, Guttman DS, Jones JD (2012) HopAS1 recognition significantly contributes to Arabidopsis nonhost resistance to Pseudomonas syringae pathogens. New Phytologist doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03950.x.
  • Kumar A, Prameela TP, Suseela Bhai R, Siljon A, Biju CN, Anandaraj M, Vinatzer BA (2011) Small Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum Maton.) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roxb) bacterial wilt is caused by same strain of Ralstonia solanacearum: A revelation by multilocus sequence typing (MLST). Eur J Plant Pathol DOI 10.1007/s10658-011-9903-2
  • Cai R, Yan S, Haijie L, Leman S, Vinatzer BA (2011) Reconstructing Host Range Evolution of Bacterial Plant Pathogens using Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato and Its Close Relatives as a Model. Infection, Genetics and Evolution 11(7):1738-51
  • Cai R, Lewis J, Yan S, Liu H, Clarke CR, Campanile F, Almeida NF, Studholme DJ, Lindeberg M, Schneider DJ, Zaccardelli M, Setubal JC, Morales-Lizcano NP, Bernal A, Coaker G, Baker C, Bender CL, Leman S, Vinatzer BA (2011) The plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato is genetically monomorphic and under strong selection to evade tomato immunity. PLoS Pathogens 7(8):e1002130
  • Potnis N, Krasileva K, Chow V, Almeida NF, Patil PB, Ryan RP, Sharlach M, Behlau F, Dow JM, Momol M, White FF, Preston JF, Vinatzer BA, Koebnik R, Setubal JC, Norman DJ, Staskawicz BJ, Jones JB (2011) Comparative genomics reveals diversity among xanthomonads infecting tomato and pepper. BMC Genomics 12:146
  • Bull CT, Clarke CR, Cai R, Vinatzer BA, Jardini TM, Koike ST (2011) Multilocus Sequence Typing of Pseudomonas syringae Sensu Lato Confirms Previously Described Genomospecies and Permits Rapid Identification of P. syringae pv. coriandricola and P. syringae pv. apii Causing Bacterial Leaf Spot on Parsley. Phytopathology 101(7):847-58
  • Moreira LM, Almeida NF Jr, Potnis N, Digiampietri LA, Adi SS, Bortolossi JC, da Silva AC, da Silva AM, de Moraes FE, de Oliveira JC, de Souza RF, Facincani AP, Ferraz AL, Ferro MI, Furlan LR, Gimenez DF, Jones JB, Kitajima EW, Laia ML, Leite RP Jr, Nishiyama MY, Rodrigues Neto J, Nociti LA, Norman DJ, Ostroski EH, Pereira HA Jr, Staskawicz BJ, Tezza RI, Ferro JA,Vinatzer BA, Setubal JC (2010) Novel insights into the genomic basis of citrus canker based on the genome sequences of two strains of Xanthomonas fuscans subsp. aurantifolii. BMC Genomics 11:238
  • Bull CT, Manceau C, Lydon J, Kong H, Vinatzer BA, Fischer-Le Saux M (2010) Pseudomonas cannabina pv. cannabina pv. nov., and Pseudomonas cannabina pv. alisalensis (Cintas Koike and Bull, 2000) comb. nov., are members of the emended species Pseudomonas cannabina (ex Sutic & Dowson 1959) Gardan, Shafik, Belouin, Brosch, Grimont & Grimont 1999. Syst Appl Micobiol 33(3)105-115
  • Almeida NF*, Yan S*, Cai R*, Clarke CR*, Morris CE, Schaad NW, Lacy GH, Jones JB, Castillo JA, Bull CT, Leman S, Guttman DS, Setubal JC, Vinatzer BA (2010) PAMDB, A Multilocus sequence typing & analysis database and website for plant-associated and plant-pathogenic microorganisms. Phytopathology 100(3):208-15
  • Clarke CR, Cai R, Studholme DJ, Guttman DS, Vinatzer BA. (2010) Pseudomonas syringae Isolates Naturally Lacking the Canonical P. syringae hrp/hrc Locus are Common Leaf Colonizers Equipped with an Alternate Type III Secretion System. Mol. Plant-Microbe Interact 23(2):198-210
  • Ferrante P, Clarke CR, Cavanaugh KA, Michelmore RW, Buonaurio R, Vinatzer BA. (2009) Contributions of the effector gene hopQ1-1 to differences in host range between Pseudomonas syringae pv. phaseolicola and P. syringae pv. tabaci. Mol Plant Pathology 10(6):837-842
  • Wroblewski T, Caldwell KS, Piskurewicz U, Cavanaugh KA, Xu H, Kozik A, Ochoa O, McHale LK, Lahre K, Jelenska J, Castillo JA, Blumenthal D, Vinatzer BA, Greenberg JT, Michelmore RW. (2009) Comparative large-scale analysis of interactions between several crop species and the effector repertoires from multiple pathovars of Pseudomonas and Ralstonia. Plant Physiology 150(4):1733-1749
  • Almeida NF, Yan S, Lindeberg M, Studholme DJ, Schneider DJ, Condon B, Liu H, Viana CJ, Warren A, Evans C, Kemen E, MacLean D, Angot A, Martin GB, Jones JD, Collmer A, Setubal JC, Vinatzer BA. (2009) A draft genome sequence of Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato strain T1 reveals a repertoire of type III related genes significantly divergent from that of P. syringae pv tomato strain DC3000. Mol Plant-Microbe Interact 22(1):52-62
  • Yan S, Liu H, Mohr TJ, Jenrette J, Chiodini R., Zaccardelli M, Setubal JC, Vinatzer BA. (2008) The Role of Recombination in the Evolution of The Model Plant Pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato DC3000, a Very Atypical Tomato Strain. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74(10):3171-81
  • Mohr TJ, Liu H, Yan S, Morris CE, Castillo JA, Jelenska J, Vinatzer BA. (2008) Naturally Occurring Non-pathogenic Isolates of the Plant Pathogen Species Pseudomonas syringae Lack a Type III Secretion System and Effector Gene Orthologues. Journal of Bacteriology 190(8):2858-70
  • Morris CE, Sands DC, Vinatzer BA, Glaux C, Guilbaud C, Buffière A, Yan S, Dominguez H, Thompson BM (2008) The life history of the plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae is linked to the water cycle. The ISME Journal 2:321-334

Review Articles and Commentaries

  • Vinatzer BA, Monteil CL, Clarke CR (2014) Harnessing population genomics to understand how bacterial pathogens emerge, adapt to crop hosts, and disseminate. Annu Rev Phytopathol 52:19-43. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-phyto-102313-045907
  • Vinatzer BA (2012) “Listening In” on How a Bacterium Takes Over the Plant Vascular System. mBio 6: 20-28
  • Jackson RW, Vinatzer BA, Arnold DL, Dorus S, Murillo J (2011) The influence of the accessory genome on bacterial pathogen evolution. Mobile Genetic Elements 1(1):55-65
  • Vinatzer BA, Yan S (2008) Mining the genomes of plant pathogenic bacteria: how not to drown in gigabases of sequence. Molecular Plant Pathology 9(1):105-118
  • Greenberg JT, Vinatzer BA (2003) Identifying type III effectors of plant pathogens and analysing their interaction with plant cells. Current Opinion in Microbiology 6: 20-28

Book Chapters

  • 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.

  • Hao W, Vinatzer BA, and Hong C (2014) Pasteurization for Irrigation Water Treatment. In: Biology, Detection, and Management of Plant Pathogens in Irrigation Water. Minneapolis, MN: APS Press. Editors: Hong C, Moorman GW, Wohanka W, Büttner C. Pages: 187-196.
  • Vinatzer BA, Bull CT (2009) The impact of genomic approaches on our understanding of diversity and taxonomy of plant pathogenic bacteria. In Plant Pathogenic Bacteria: Genomics and Molecular Biology, R.W. Jackson (Norwich, UK: Horizon Press)
  • Vinatzer BA, Greenberg JT (2006) Whole-Genome Analysis to Identify Type III-Secreted Effectors. Methods in Molecular Biology
Boris A. Vinatzer
  • (540) 231-2126
  • 551 Latham Hall
    Mail code: 0390
    220 Ag Quad Lane
    Blacksburg, VA 24061