Heard on Campus: Sarah Bordenstein, The Wolbachia Project

UNIVERSITY PARK Pa. — Sarah Bordenstein, associate research professor in the Eberly College of Science, and director of Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project, spoke at the Millennium Café on Sept. 13.

Bordenstein gave a talk titled “Transforming BioSTEM Education through Foundational Research Experience,” about the project, an integrative, student-driven lab series with a 17-year history of outreach across thousands of classrooms around the world. This pioneering project on biodiversity, biotechnology and bioinformatics brings real-world scientific research and discoveries to middle, high school and college students worldwide.

“It is exciting to show the students that they can explore and have an impact in their community. We provide the training, but the students provide the vision, direction and community leadership,” said Bordenstein. “The project is a deeply immersive, hands-on lab experience that empowers students to identify arthropod species in their communities; obtain DNA sequences to discover if the arthropods are infected with Wolbachia bacterial symbionts; and examine the DNA to determine relatedness of the Wolbachia strain to other sequences in the national genetic database. Finally, students may publish their research results in the Wolbachia Project Database and communicate their findings to the global scientific community.”

The program made the trek from Tennessee to Pennsylvania along with the Bordenstein Lab in mid-2022.

“The project’s core goals are to engage students in nature and real-world research, encourage international participation in the collection of new scientific data on bacterial symbionts, enhance student interest in biodiversity to molecular biology, and give students a view of what it is like to be a scientist,” said Bordenstein. “One thing that really excited us about coming to Penn State is the cohesiveness and collaboration across organizational units. We would like to work across these units with their existing outreach platforms and into communities throughout the state.”

Bordenstein, who is a former high school teacher, is passionate about translating cutting-edge science techniques from the research lab into easily adaptable, inquiry-driven curriculum for the classroom. “Working alongside educators, we provide foundational research experiences that promote a skilled and confident STEM workforce,” said Bordenstein.

“The Wolbachia Project aligns with the Penn State mission by engaging students in the exploration of their surrounding environments so that they may identify and contribute solutions to locally relevant issues.”

The Millennium Café runs from 10 to 11 am on the 3rd floor Café Commons of the Millennium Science Building on Tuesdays and is free to attend. Check the Millennium Café website for the most up-to-date information about upcoming talks.

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