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Lab Members

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 Initiative 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

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

Brittany Leigh, Ph.D., Postdoc

Dr. Leigh (Website) joined the lab in September of 2017 to study the genetic and molecular bases of animal-bacteria-bacteriophage interactions, specifically cytoplasmic incompatibility caused by Wolbachia prophage WO genes in Drosophila melanogaster. CI is at the forefront of mosquito control efforts to curb the transmission of dengue and Zika viruses and is also a speciation mechanism between various arthropod species. Brittany holds the NIH F32 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Email: brittany.a.leigh(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @Britt_3Phage

Rupinder Kaur, Ph.D., Postdoc

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 will be to undermine the mechanism and biochemical basis of the Wolbachia-induced drive system named Cytoplasmic Incompatibility (CI). CI 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

Junhui Li, Ph.D., Postdoc

Junhui joined the lab in May of 2019 to explore how causative factors drive human microbiome development using multi-omic approaches and to establish causal links between diet, the microbiome, and metabolic health.
Email: | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @_JunhuiLi

Karissa Cross, Ph.D., Postdoc

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).

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

Dylan Shropshire, Graduate Student

Dylan (Website) joined the lab in 2015 to study the microbial genetic basis of cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). CI is at the forefront of mosquito control efforts to curb the transmission of dengue and Zika viruses. CI is also a speciation mechanism that assists the splitting of one species into two. Dylan holds the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Email: dylan.shropshire(at) | Phone 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @JediShropshire

Rob Markowitz, Graduate Student

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


Alex Mansueto, Graduate Student

Alex joined the lab in March of 2020 to study the functional genetic basis of bacteriophage lysis in endosymbionts using phage WO of Wolbachia.  He  graduated from Virginia Tech in 2018, where his undergraduate research experiences included transgenic approaches and gene therapeutics for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy as well as studies of the nutritional impacts on human genetics.

Email: alexander.j.mansueto@vanderbilt.Edu | Twitter: @AlexJMansueto

Athena Lemon, Research Assistant II

Athena joined the lab in February of 2020 after working with fleas and the plague at Washington State Univ.  She is passionate about science communication and outreach and joined Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project.  Her goals are to maintain and expand the project in exciting new directions, while performing experimental research. When not in lab, Athena knits, quilts, and gardens.

Email: athena.lemon(at) | Phone: 615.322.9094 | Twitter: @athenalemon

Mahip Profile

Mahip Kalra, Undergraduate Student

Mahip (Class of 2022) started in the lab in September of 2018 under the guidance of Dylan Shropshire 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. Phone: 615.322.9094


Asia Miller, Undergraduate Student

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. Phone: 615.322.9094

Victoria Stewart, Undergraduate Student

Victoria (Class of 2022) joined the lab in August of 2019 under the guidance of Brittany Leigh to study cytoplasmic incompatibility caused by Wolbachia prophage WO genes in Drosophila melanogaster.  She additionally maintains Nasonia stock for research on host-microbe interactions. Phone: 615.322.9094

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


Cami Westlake, Undergraduate Student

Cami (Class of 2021) joined the lab in August 2019 under the mentorship of Karissa Cross to study the microbiome in Nasonia – a genus of four recently diverged wasp species that are a powerful model organism for investigating speciation and host-microbe interactions. Cami’s research focuses on microbial inheritance, how the microbiome develops, and how this development differs in males and females. Twitter: @Cami_Westlake