Dr. Bonnie Bassler is internationally known for her research on quorum sensing, the technical term for how bacteria “talk” and “listen.” Quorum sensing allows unicellular bacterial populations to organize and execute elaborate group tasks, from simultaneously glowing in the dark, to initiating violence against a host. Their collective behavior mimics the complexity seen in multicellular organisms, giving insight into how multicellular organisms may have evolved.
Dr. Bassler’s has shown that bacteria are multilingual. Using secret molecular codes, each species of bacteria can communicate with their own kind. With a separate code, which Dr. Bassler calls “bacterial Esperanto,” bacteria can also converse across bacterial species, with strangers. Dr. Bassler’s fascinating TED Talk explaining how bacteria “talk” has over two million views. Her work has wide ranging implications for the development of novel antimicrobial therapeutics that make “bad” bacteria incapable of communication while enhancing the conversations between “good” bacteria. Since bacterial cells outnumber human cells in a typical body by a ratio exceeding 10 to 1, there is vast therapeutic potential.
Born in Chicago and raised in California, she studied biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, receiving an award for the most outstanding undergraduate independent research. While a graduate student at The Johns Hopkins University, she was awarded the W.R. Grace & Company Fellowship. After completing her doctoral studies at the Hopkins in 1990, Dr. Bassler worked with the The Agouron Institute before joining the faculty at Princeton University.
Dr. Bassler has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, including articles in Science and Nature. In 2006, Dr. Bassler was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and she is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society, and the American Philosophical Society. Her honors include the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, the National Academies’ Richard Lounsbery Award, the L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science award, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the FASEB Excellence in Science Award, and the Greengard Prize. President Barack Obama nominated her to the National Science Board, and she served in that role for six years.
Dr. Bonnie Bassler is currently the Squibb Professor and Chair in Molecular Biology at Princeton University and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.