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Boris Vinatzer

Professor
Boris Vinatzer
551 Latham Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Overview

Boris A. Vinatzer’s research spans from molecular plant-microbe interactions to molecular evolution and taxonomy of plant pathogenic bacteria. He takes advantage of the revolution in DNA sequencing technology to develop bioinformatics tools for precise and fast detection, classification, and identification of plant pathogens and biocontrol agents. A second area of research focuses on environmental microbes that may play a role in the formation of precipitation. Dr. Vinatzer teaches an interdisciplinary undergraduate course in Microbial Forensics and Biosecurity in which he covers concepts of biosecurity through examples of bioterrorism and natural disease epidemics of humans, animals, and plants. Dr. Vinatzer has published over 75 peer-reviewed research articles and book-chapters.

Education

  • Postdoctoral training in Microbial Genetics 2000-2004 The University of Chicago
  • Ph.D. Molecular & Cellular Biotechnology 2000 University of Bologna (Italy)
  • B.S./M.S. Agricultural Sciences 1995 University of Bologna (Italy)

Current projects:

Unraveling mechanism and ecological role of non-proteinaceous ice nucleation activity in a Gram-positive bacterium

Some bacteria have the surprising ability to catalyze the freezing of water. These bacteria may even contribute to the formation of precipitation in clouds. Little is known about how and why bacteria acquired this ability, which in scientific terms is called “ice nucleation activity”. In this project, the Vinatzer lab will study the bacterium Lysinibacillus parviboronicapiens, which was recently isolated from precipitation and which secretes a yet unidentified molecule with ice nucleation activity. The Vinatzer lab plans to identify the genes that are necessary to synthesize this molecule, to study where the bacterium typically lives, and how it benefits from ice nucleation activity. One of the long-term goals is to understand the detailed mechanism this molecule uses to nucleate ice. This knowledge could improve our ability to predict amount and frequency of precipitation or to influence weather by increasing rainfall during droughts or preventing damaging hail storms. The educational outreach components of the project are three-fold: the science of ice nucleation will be disseminated and taught to Appalachian high school students to broaden their definition of science, increase knowledge, and stimulate interest of possible scientific opportunities in their future; under-represented undergraduate students will participate in research programs; and graduate students will receive advanced training on ice nucleation, be mentored throughout their graduate school career, and produce data that can be disseminated via scholarly publications. The project will be evaluated by co-PI Dr. Tiffany Drape (ALCE) on its effectiveness to not only conduct the proposed research activities but its ability to train and disseminate information to the three target audiences.

Precise genome sequence-based pathogen identification

Many bacterial species of significant scientific and economic interest display a high level of phenotypic variation. For example, different strains of the same bacterial species may cause a range of different diseases in humans or may not cause any disease at all. Also, different strains of the same plant-pathogenic species may cause different diseases on different crops or may not cause any disease at all. The Vinatzer lab in collaboration with Dr. Lenwood S. Heath (Computer Science) is developing a new web platform that allows users to precisely circumscribe, name, and describe any group of bacteria, be it a species, an intra-specific group, or even a single pathogenic strain that caused a disease outbreak. Unknown bacteria can be identified as members of these groups based on their genome sequences alone. The platform is based on the concept of Life Identification Numbers (LINs) and leverages a combination of algorithms to calculate, or infer, Average Nucleotide Identity (ANI). While the platform does not rely on named species, it is compatible with rigorous description of named species as well. The platform can be found at www.linbase.org

Leveraging Pathogen Diversity for Gaining Insights into Molecular Plant – Microbe Interactions

Plants are exposed to many pathogens and consequently evolved a sophisticated immune system. On the other hand, pathogens evolved sophisticated mechanisms to overcome the plant immune system. In this project, the Vinatzer lab takes advantage of genetic diversity in pathogen populations and in crop plants to identify pathogen genes and plant genes that determine the outcome of plant – pathogen interactions. These genes can be expected to provide new avenues towards novel approaches in crop disease prevention and control. The project also offers multiple opportunities for training students in an interdisciplinary and international context.

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, Dr. Vinatzer advises undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs in his lab. He loves interacting with students at all different levels of experience and see students grow scientifically and personally.

Professor | 2018-present 
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences 
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA

Professor | 2016-2018 
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science (PPWS) Department
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA

Interim Department Head | 2015-2018
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science (PPWS) Department
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA

Associate Professor | 2010-2016 
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science (PPWS) Department
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA

Assistant Professor | 2004-2010 
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science (PPWS) Department
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA

Postdoctoral Researcher | 2000-2004 
Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology 
The University of Chicago

Graduate Research Assistant | 1995-2000
Department of Arboriculture 
University of Bologna (Italy)

  • Potomac Division of the American Phytopathological Society Distinguished Service Award, 2017
  • Virginia Tech Scholar of the Week, 2012
  • PPWS Department - R. G. Henderson Award for Outstanding Faculty, 2010
  • NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, 2008-2013
  • Postdoctoral Ruth L. Kirschstein NIH National Research Service Award, 2002-2004
  • Graduation with 110/110 points "con lode" from the University of Bologna (Italy), 1995