Skip to main content

Lab Members


We are always looking for passionate, curious, and diligent trainees to join the Lab. Please contact Dr. Bordenstein with a Curriculum Vitae or Resume and a statement about your research interests, leadership and/or science experiences, and professional goals.

Seth Bordenstein, Ph.D., Centennial Endowed Professor in Biological Sciences

Dr. Bordenstein has studied animal-microbe symbioses and microbiomes for 25 years. He is an evolutionary geneticist and microbiologist in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. He is the founding director of The Vanderbilt Microbiome Innovation Center and the worldwide HHMI-initiated science education program Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project. He is also Associate Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation. His laboratory endeavors to understand the evolutionary and genetic principles that shape symbiotic interactions between animals, microbes, and viruses and the major applications of these interactions to human health. Towards these goals, the lab employs hypothesis-driven approaches to study intimate symbioses between arthropods and obligate intracellular bacteria that modify sexual reproduction and facultative symbioses between animals and gut microbes that impact animal health, fitness, and evolution. He 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, and 2020 Genetics Society of America Award for Excellence in Education.

Bordenstein CV 12/2019 | Google Scholar Profile | Twitter @Symbionticism | Blog Symbionticism | Seminars YouTube

Email: s.bordenstein(at) / Phone: 615.322.9087

Sarah Bordenstein, M.S., Senior Research Specialist, Director of Discover the Microbes Within – The Wolbachia Project

Sarah co-leads the Bordenstein lab and is the Director of Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project) in which she develops and disseminates worldwide educational resources related to symbiosis and biotechnology. She is an expert in microbial ecology, genomics, and science education. In her experimental work, she is using quantitative and computational genomic analyses to study phage WO and plasmid biology in Wolbachia.

Email: sarah.bordenstein(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 |  Twitter @srbordenstein

Rupinder Kaur, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor

Rupinder received her Ph.D. from University of Vienna, Austria in close collaboration with Edmund Mach Foundation, Italy and University of Cambridge, UK. Her broad scientific interests include host-Wolbachia-virus interactions. She joined the lab in December of 2019, and her main goal is to undermine the mechanism and biochemical basis of the Wolbachia-induced drive system named Cytoplasmic Incompatibility (CI). CI impacts arthropod speciation and is currently at the forefront of approaches targeting pest populations and mosquito-borne diseases. Outside of science, she is all about traveling, playing pool, and card games.

Email: rupinder.kaur(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @KaurTweets

Liz Mallott, Ph.D., Postdoc, Vanderbilt Microbiome Innovation Center Research Specialist

Liz received her PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She joined the lab in September of 2020 to study how genetics, environment, and other host-associated factors shape variation in human microbiomes. She is broadly interested in the evolution of human microbiomes, and how plasticity in the microbiome in humans and other primates influences host metabolism, health, and fitness. When not in the lab or at a computer, Liz spends her time playing board games, biking, and playing music.
Email: elizabeth.mallott(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @liz_mallott

Karissa Cross, Ph.D., NSF Postdoctoral Fellow

Karissa obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and she joined the lab in June of 2019 to study the evolutionary and functional genetic basis of host-microbe and host-microbiota interactions. Her primary project examines what are the number and types of animal genes that regulate densities and maternal transmission of endosymbiotic bacteria (Wolbachia). Karissa holds the NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology.

Email: karissa.cross(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @Krisss_Crosss

Rob Markowitz, Graduate Student, Vanderbilt Microbiome Innovation Center Research Specialist

Rob joined the lab in June of 2019 to study how human genomic variation impacts the microbiome using multi-omic approaches. He is an NIH T32 Big Data in Biomedical Science Trainee. Outside of the lab, Rob enjoys photography, visiting national parks, and dogs.

Email: robert.h.markowitz(at) | Phone 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @MarkowitzRob

Bella Ritchie, Research Assistant II

Bella joined the lab in June 2020 as a research assistant after graduating from The University of Tennessee in 2019. Her undergraduate research experiences included research on wolf spiders, dung beetles, and plant surveys, followed by a field season studying pollinator and plant assemblages at North Dakota State University. She is broadly interested in the between the interactions between microbes and their invertebrate hosts, and the effects of these interactions on host ecology.

Email: isabella.t.ritchie(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @BellaRitchie14


Asia Miller, Undergraduate Student, President of Vanderbilt University Microbiome Society

Asia (Class of 2022) started in the lab in September of 2018 under the guidance of Teddy van Opstal to study the growth and competition of gut bacteria in Nasonia. In December 2018, she was awarded a SyBBURE Searle Undergraduate Research Fellowship that supports her research in the lab on the gut microbes of Nasonia. Asia founded the Vanderbilt University Microbiome Society, the first undergraduate microbiome society in the world. Phone: 615.322.9094

Mahip Kalra, Undergraduate Student, Secretary of Vanderbilt University Microbiome Society

Mahip (Class of 2022) started in the lab in September of 2018 under the guidance of Dylan Shropshire and now Rupinder Kaur to study the microbial genetic basis of cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). In April of 2020, he was awarded a SyBBURE Searle Undergraduate Research Fellowship that supports his year-round research on Wolbachia symbionts and their adaptations.

Henry Pliske, Undergraduate Student

Henry (Class of 2023) joined the lab in August of 2019 to maintain the Sarcophaga bullata fly stocks.

Phone: 615.322.9094

Christina Valentine, Undergraduate Student, Vanderbilt Microbiome Innovation Center Communications Specialist

Christina (Class of 2024) started in the lab in November of 2020 under the guidance of Rupinder Kaur to study the mechanism and biochemical bases of Wolbachia-mediated Cytoplasmic Incompatibility in Drosophila melanogaster. She also creates digital content and media marketing as the Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative Communications Specialist. Twitter: @Christina_val