President Chopp's Introduction of Bonnie Bassler

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At the 2010 Commencement, President Chopp said biologist Bonnie Bassler's teaching has not only "shaped and energized generations of both undergraduate and graduate students," but that her "groundbreaking discovery that bacteria communicate with one another via a chemical language has opened and defined a whole new field of biological research, leading to new possibilities for controlling destructive pathogens."

Bonnie Bassler, you are president-elect of the American Society for Microbiology and Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, where your teaching has shaped and energized generations of both undergraduate and graduate students. Your groundbreaking discovery that bacteria communicate with one another via a chemical language has opened and defined a whole new field of biological research, leading to new possibilities for controlling destructive pathogens.

You received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis in 1984 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1990. You then completed postdoctoral work at the Agouron Institute in La Jolla, California, and moved on to the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University in 1994, where you have served as director of graduate studies since 2003.

Your work on how bacteria communicate with one another has profound implications for the health of living organisms. You discovered that bacteria could release and detect molecules, responding to one another by using these chemical signals as if they were words. In this way, they measure their own population densities and respond according to those numbers. In effect they can lie in wait until their numbers are sufficient to mount an attack on the body or to successfully colonize another specialized niche. By manipulating these signals, scientists may be able to diminish the effect of pathogenic bacteria or to enhance the survival of beneficial ones.

You have published the results of your research in a variety of biological journals, authoring or co-authoring more than 70 articles on a wide range of topics and currently are an editor for Molecular Microbiology and Annual Reviews of Genetics. You serve on numerous fellowship and award panels such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the American Society of Microbiology, and the Keck Foundation.

Your own work in the field of molecular biology has been recognized with a multitude of awards and honors. In 2002, you were awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and elected to the American Academy of Microbiology. In 2004 you were named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Two years later, you won the American Society for Microbiology's Eli Lilly Investigator Award and were elected to the National Academy of Sciences. And, in 2008, you were awarded Princeton University's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Bonnie Bassler, your extraordinary work on the chemical language of bacteria that enables them to coordinate their behavior has been one of the most important scientific discoveries in the last 50 years. Your work has helped scientists better understand a once unimagined complex capacity in bacteria to manage their activity that holds great promise for saving numerous lives from destructive bacterial pathogens. You have instructed and inspired numerous students to enter the field of molecular biology and dedicate their lives to exploring research areas that you have discovered and shaped. Your work as a scholar, teacher, leader, and public servant is a model for students here at Swarthmore and across the world of higher education.

Upon the recommendation of the faculty and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Science.

Read Bonnie Bassler's address.