Jo Handelsman, PhD

Research Scientist

Departments & Organizations

FASMCB Faculty Accounts

Yale Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS): Microbiology: Bacteria; Microbiome | Molecular Cell Biology, Genetics and Development | Plant Molecular Biology

Office of Cooperative Research


Dr. Jo Handelsman was appointed by President Barack Obama as the Associate Director for Science in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) where she served for three years until January 2017. At OSTP, Handelsman developed and implemented policy for scientific research and education, applied scientific evidence to many areas of Federal policy, and advised the President on science and science education.

As of February 1, 2017, she will be the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Handelsman received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from UW-Madison in 1984 and served on the faculty at UW-Madison from 1985 until moving to Yale University in 2010. At Yale, she was a Frederick Phineas Rose Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

Handelsman’s research focuses on the genetic and functional diversity of microorganisms in soil, plant and insect gut communities. Handelsman’s lab is one of the pioneers of functional metagenomics, an approach to accessing the genetic potential of unculturable bacteria in environmental samples. Their studies using both culture-based and metagenomic analyses of microbial communities have led to discovery of novel antibiotics and determinants of antibiotic resistance and expanded understanding of multispecies interactions that enhance or diminish the health of host animals and plants.

In addition to her microbiology research program, Handelsman is known internationally for her efforts to improve science education and increase the participation of women and minorities in science at the university level. She co-founded the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at UW-Madison, which designed and evaluated interventions intended to enhance the participation of women in science. She has provided local and national leadership in transforming classroom teaching in science and engineering through the establishment of the Summer Institutes for Scientific Teaching, the Small World Initiative, authoring several books on teaching and mentoring, and serving on numerous committees that identified necessary actions.

Handelsman has co-authored over 100 scientific papers, 30 editorials, and three books about teaching: Entering Mentoring, Scientific Teaching, and Biology Brought to Life. She co-edits the series, Controversies in Science and Technology. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology, Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the AAAS. She served as president of American Society for Microbiology in 2013; has received numerous awards in recognition of her mentoring, teaching, and research contributions; and in 2009, Seed Magazine named her "A Revolutionary Mind" in recognition of her unorthodox ideas. In 2011, she was one of 11 individuals selected by President Obama to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, and in 2012, Nature named her one of “ten people who mattered this year” for her research on gender bias in science.

Education & Training

PhD University of Wisconson-Madison, Molecular Biology (1984)
BS Cornell University, Agronomy (1979)

Honors & Recognition

  • Graduate Microbiology Teaching AwardAmerican Society for Microbiology (2013)

  • Honorary Doctor of ScienceBard College (2013)

  • Named one of the “ten people who mattered this year”Nature (2012)

  • Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring (2011)

  • D.C. White Research and Mentoring AwardAmerican Society for Microbiology (2011)

  • American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Education Award (2010)

  • Carski Foundation Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching AwardAmerican Society for Microbiology (2009)

  • Named “Revolutionary Mind”Seed Magazine (2009)

  • Roche Diagnostics Alice C. Evans AwardAmerican Society for Microbiology (2008)

Professional Service

  • President American Society for Microbiology (2013 - 2013)

  • Councilor-at-large AAAS (2012 - 2016)

  • Co-chair President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology Working Group, STEM Education in Higher Ed (2010 - 2012)

  • President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology Working Group, K-12 Education (2009 - 2010)

  • Editor-in-Chief DNA and Cell Biology (2007 - 2011)

  • Co-chair National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology (2004 - 2014)

  • Series Editor Controversies in Science and Technology (2003 - 2014)

  • Director Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching (2002 - 2010)

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Contact Info

Jo Handelsman, PhD
Lab Location
Kline Biology Tower
219 Prospect Street, Ste 9th Floor

New Haven, CT 06511
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Mailing Address
MCDB KBT 904219 Prospect Street
PO Box 208103

New Haven, CT 06520-8103

Curriculum Vitae

Handelsman Lab Website