Dr. Vinatzer uses the latest technological advances in genomics in combination with population genetics and microbial genetics to better understand the emergence, spread, and virulence mechanisms of bacterial crop pathogens in order to develop new avenues to control crop diseases.
Little is known about how plant pathogens, which were originally adapted to natural mixed-plant communities in pre-agricultural times, evolved into today's highly aggressive pathogens of crops cultivated in monoculture. To fill this void, the Vinatzer lab aims at identifying the evolutionary mechanisms that allow pathogens to specialize to specific plant species and to become more aggressive. The bacterial plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato (the cause of bacterial speck disease of tomato worldwide) and close related bactera are the focus of research in the Vinatzer lab.
A multidisciplinary approach of comparative evolutionary genomics, population genetics, and microbial genetics is applied leveraging the latest advances in biological sciences and computer sciences. Research and education are integreated in the lab's activities through the undergraduate course in Microbial Forensics and Biosecurity and by giving internship opportunities to undergraduates in the lab. Research has already uncovered genomic changes that occurred in P. syringae pv. tomato during its evolution and that probably contributed to its current aggressiveness and worldwide distribution. Results from this research are giving new insight into the evolution of bacterial pathogens and into molecular mechanisms at the basis of plant-pathogen interactions. These insights will be instrumental for developing new approaches to protect crops from diseases and for breeding and engineering of disease resistant crops.