Boris Vinatzer

Professor
  • School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Synopsis:

Dr. Vinatzer’s current research focus is on plant-associated and atmospheric microbes and microbiomes using genetic, genomic, and metagenomic approaches. Taking advantage of the revolution in DNA sequencing technology we develop experimental protocols and bioinformatics tools for precise and fast detection, classification, and identification of plant pathogens and biocontrol agents. In a second area of research, we study environmental microbes that may play a role in the formation of precipitation.

Description:

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. The platform can be found at www.linbase.org.

Fast and accurate plant disease diagnosis and pathogen identification before plants are distributed by nurseries and sold to farmers and home owners could make the difference between successfully preventing a disease outbreak or losing billions of dollars because of crops that are damaged or destroyed by emerging diseases, such as citrus greening. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing in combination with efficient algorithms and comprehensive pathogen genome databases offer the possibility to revolutionize plant disease diagnostics and pathogen identification. We thus perform research on how to improve protocols for pathogen DNA extraction directly from plants and bioinformatic analysis of metagenomic sequences.
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 studies 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.