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Seth Bordenstein

Director of the Microbiome Center, Professor of Biology and Entomology
Seth Bordenstein

**The Bordenstein lab is recruiting several positions in (i) functional genetics of insect-Wolbachia symbioses (ii) microbiome research in humans and insects and (iii) Microbiome Center management and coordination. Please contact Dr. Bordenstein by email with informal inquiries or a single pdf including cover letter, CV, and 1st authored papers, reports, and presentations**


Ph.D., The University of Rochester, 2002

M.S., University of Rochester, 1999

B.S., University of Rochester, 1997


Research Interests

The Bordenstein laboratory accelerates knowledge on the rules of microbial symbiosis and microbiome variation within and between host species to (i) disseminate long-lasting principles, patterns, and concepts on the interactions between animals, microbes, and viruses and (ii) contribute translational outcomes from these investigations.

Species interactions are fundamentally important aspects of the biosphere. Microscopic entities including bacteria and their viruses, bacteriophages, exhibit profound genomic diversity and often exert functional significance on host fauna and flora. The Bordenstein Laboratory investigates the evolutionary genetic and functional principles that shape the rules of engagement between animals, bacteria, and viruses. We study two forms of interdomain interactions: intimate and facultative.

In intimate symbioses between inherited, parasitic bacteria (Wolbachia) and arthropods, we discovered the long-sought genes that selfishly hijack host embryonic development via selective killing of males and a sperm-egg incompatibility termed cytoplasmic incompatibility. These genes occur in a novel genetic module of prophage WO of Wolbachia and form an unprecedented menagerie of eukaryotic-like DNA and annotated functions in eukaryotic cell biology. Key questions that drive basic and translational outcomes: How does bacteriophage WO underpin a global pandemic (Wolbachia) and a major mosquito control strategy? What is the mechanism of phage lysis in endosymbionts surrounded by bacterial and eukaryotic membranes? What is the long-term impact of symbiosis on host evolution including adaptation and speciation?

By studying facultative interactions between animals and their microbiomes, we demonstrated across vertebrates and invertebrates that animal phylogenetic relationships frequently mirror their microbiome relationships. This new pattern termed “phylosymbiosis” is a rare, cross-system trend in the field, and our experimental transplants of microbiomes between related species suggest that natural selection can contribute to shaping phylosymbiosis in wasps and mice. Furthermore, our human microbiome analyses and dietary intervention trial reveal a recurrent and persistent influence of ethnicity on gut and oral microbiome and virome variation. Finally, we discovered the first antibacterial gene in Archaea, thus opening the domain for bioprospecting of new antibiotics. This work has ultimately added major rungs to the ladder of host-microbe interactions, including basic knowledge, translational applications, and cross-system principles that collectively reach new heights in understanding the fundamentals of interdomain, symbiotic interactions. Key questions that drive basic and translational outcomes: What are the the major rules of intraspecific and interspecific variation in host-associated microbiomes, and what are the impacts of ethnicity and diet on human microbiome variation and health disparities?

Our scholarship leverages a wide range of methods and subdisciplines spanning bacteriology, virology, zoology, biochemistry, development, reproductive biology, ecology, embryology, evolution, and multi-omics. The lab also  directs the transinstitutional Penn State Microbiome Center and the worldwide science education series Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project that engages biology students in microbiology and biotechnology to offer the thrills of scientific discovery and cutting-edge methodology.