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Bordenstein honored by Genetics Society of America

Feb. 27, 2020, 9:14 AM


by Sara Eaton

The Genetics Society of America has recognized Seth Bordenstein, PhD, an evolutionary geneticist and microbiologist at Vanderbilt University, for an initiative that brings real-world scientific research into middle school, high school and college biology classes.

Seth Bordenstein, PhD

Bordenstein, Centennial Professor of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science and professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, will receive the Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education in April during the Genetic Society’s Allied Genetics Conference in Washington, D.C.

The award recognizes Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project, which he, his wife, Sarah Bordenstein, MS, senior research specialist and the project’s director, and their colleagues established in 2005.

The project is named for a symbiotic bacterium that lives in more animal species than any other bacteria on the planet, and especially in parasitic roundworms and arthropods including insects.

Students contribute new research by identifying arthropod species, collecting DNA to identify new strains of Wolbachia, and comparing the DNA of the strains they find to those already in research databases.

“Bringing real-world scientific research and equipment to the classroom is so important because science is much more than what’s in the textbook,” Bordenstein said. “It is creative, taps curiosity, and forges a culture of excellence while giving students and educators an idea of what it is like to be a scientist.”

The Project offers free labs and lectures that can be used individually or in conjunction with existing curriculum. It also loans lab equipment so that any school can incorporate hands-on learning into its science curriculum.

Some project alumni are now science educators who use the curriculum in their own classrooms. The project also reaches across international borders. In addition to schools in the United States, the project collaborates with science education programs in Israel, Singapore and Switzerland, among many others.

Bordenstein also directs the Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative and is associate director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “if the Wolbachia Project advances scientific literacy and the emergence of new scholars, then it has succeeded.”

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