Department News

Bonnie Bassler to Give 2017 Prather Lectures, March 1, 2, 3

Bonnie Bassler to Give 2017 Prather Lectures, March 1, 2, 3

The annual John M. Prather Lectures in Biology will showcase the work of Dr. Bonnie Bassler, Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  As a molecular biologist, Bassler discovered quorum sensing – the mechanism by which bacteria communicate – that allows for cooperative behavior among these microorganisms.

Bassler’s work has deciphered the chemical language of bacteria, shedding new light onto the social lives of microbes.  For example, when certain bacteria sense that they are in a large enough group (a quorum), they mobilize to attack a host, triggering disease.  Bassler also has found that bacteria are multilingual. Using secret molecular codes, a species of bacteria can communicate with their own kind, but use a separate code, to converse with other bacterial species, strangers. Thus, her work has broad implications for medical science – from the development of anti-microbial drugs aimed to disrupt the communication of “bad” bacteria but also to enhance conversations between “good” bacteria.

Raised in California, Bassler received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from University of California at Davis and a doctorate from John Hopkins University. She worked at the Agouron Institute before joining the faculty at Princeton University. She has earned numerous accolades, among them a MacArthur Award and election into the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 2013.  President Barack Obama nominated her to the National Science Board, and she served in that role for six years.

In addition to her stunning research achievements, Bassler has a gift for science communication.  Her 2009 TED talk has been viewed over 2.1 million times.  Her energy and enthusiasm are able ignite the imaginations of children and specialized academics alike.  Because her work spans multiple fields – from ecology to molecular genetics – she is an ideal speaker for the Prather lectureship, hosted jointly by the OEB and MCB Departments.

March 1, 2017   4:00 pm – 5:00 pm   Bacterial Quorum Sensing and Its Control   Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street

March 2, 2017   6:00 pm – 7:00 pm   Tiny Conspiracies: Cell-to-Cell Communication in Bacteria   Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street

March 3, 2017   10:00 am – 11:00 am   How Bacteria Tell Self from Other   Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street

by Hopi Hoekstra