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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 at any rank in the genetic, cell biological, and biochemical bases of how microbes and insect hosts wage biological war over animal sexual reproduction. Outcomes span new textbook knowledge on microbial symbioses and transgenic applications to the control of vectors and insect pests. Focal organisms are Wolbachia bacteria and bacteriophage WO in flies, mosquitoes, and wasps. Please contact Dr. Bordenstein by email with a single pdf including cover letter, CV, and 1st authored papers, reports, and presentations. For more information on these projects and the lab, please visit**



Ph.D., The University of Rochester, 2002

M.S., University of Rochester, 1999

B.S., University of Rochester, 1997

Dr. Bordenstein has studied animal-microbe symbioses and microbiomes for over 25 years to accelerate knowledge and applications on the evolutionary, functional, and genetic principles that shape tangled interactions between animals, microbes, and viruses. Notable areas of impact include host speciation, insect symbiosis, vector control, biotech education, human microbiomes, and health disparities. He is an evolutionary geneticist and microbiologist in the Departments of Biology and Entomology at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. He was the founding director of The Vanderbilt Microbiome Innovation Center from 2017-2022 and the worldwide HHMI-initiated science education program Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project. At Penn State since 2022, he directs the distinguished Penn State Microbiome Center composed of over 100 faculty and 500 members spanning the human, environmental, and agricultural microbiome sciences. Dr. Bordenstein is the recipient of the 2014 Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2014 Chancellor’s Award for Research, 2018 Chancellor Faculty Fellow Award from Vanderbilt University, 2020 Genetics Society of America Award for Excellence in Education, 2020 Centennial Endowed Professorship, and 2022 Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Endowed Chair in Microbiome Sciences.


Research Interests and Innovation

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 employs hypothesis-driven approaches to study two forms of host-microbe interactions: (i) intimate symbioses between arthropods and obligate intracellular bacteria that modify sexual reproduction and (ii) facultative symbioses between animals and gut microbes that impact animal health, fitness, and evolution.  

(i) 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 (PLOS Pathogens 2019, eLife 2021) and a sperm-egg incompatibility termed cytoplasmic incompatibility (Nature 2017, PNAS 2018). These genes occur in a novel genetic module of prophage WO in Wolbachia and form an unprecedented menagerie of eukaryotic-like DNA and annotated functions in eukaryotic cell biology (Nature Communications 2016). Key questions that drive basic and translational outcomes: How does bacteriophage WO underpin a global Wolbachia pandemic 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?

(ii) By studying facultative interactions between animals and their microbiomes, we demonstrated across vertebrates and invertebrates that animal phylogenetic relationships frequently mirror their microbiome relationships (Science 2013, PLOS Biology 2016). 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 selection shapes phylosymbiosis (mBio 2019). 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 (PLOS Biology 2018, 2022). Finally, we discovered the first antibacterial gene in Archaea (eLife 2014), thus opening the domain for bioprospecting of new antibiotics. 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. This cross-system work has added major rungs to the ladder of host-microbe interactions, including basic knowledge, translational applications, and fundamental principles on interdomain, symbiotic interactions.