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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:

genomeRxiv: a microbial whole-genome database and diagnostic marker design resource for classification, identification, and data sharing

Although invisible to the human eye, microorganisms have an immense impact on society and the environment. They keep soil healthy, cause disease, and give us tools like antibiotics to fight the diseases other microbes cause. Accurate and precise identification of microbes is thus essential for understanding microbiology in general, for diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and for maintaining a healthy society and a healthy environment. The DNA sequencing revolution allows us to read the genetic code of individual microbes, and use this for fast and accurate identification. However, we cannot do this without databases that precisely define classes of microorganisms, and associate them with their unique characteristics. We also need fast computer programs that can handle the large amounts of data involved and, to be most useful to the world, we need to allow anyone, anywhere to upload the genetic data for the microbes they find, and quickly get an accurate identification of their likely impact. Therefore, we are building genomeRxiv, a Website and a database of hundreds of thousands of accurately catalogued and classified public genome sequences of bacteria and archaea. Building on existing work, a combination of fast and accurate algorithms will be employed for users to query the database. A unique feature will keep submitted genomes private, which will enable and stimulate networking and facilitate sharing of genome sequencing results among scientists across academia, industry, and government, leading to a more efficient, and economically stimulating, use of research funds. Automated design of diagnostic tools will facilitate detection and regulation of pathogens for biosafety and biosecurity and directly impact clinical and veterinary medicine, plant pathology, and the use of beneficial microbes in agriculture. The scientific community will be trained in the use of genomeRxiv, and undergraduate and graduate students of diverse backgrounds will receive education at the interface of biology and computer science.

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.

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)

  • Virginia Tech CALS Outstanding Graduate Student Mentor Award, 2022
  • Virginia Tech CALS Excellence in Basic Research Award, 2020
  • 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