Jo Handelsman, PhD

Frederick Phineas Rose Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Departments & Organizations

Microbiology: Bacteria | Environmental Microbiology

Molecular Cell Biology, Genetics and Development: Pathogen-Cell Interactions


In July 2014, President Obama appointed Dr. Handelsman as Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). During her time at the White House, her lab at Yale will continue to function, and she plans to return to her lab in July 2016.

Dr. Jo Handelsman is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and Frederick Phineas Rose Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984 and she served on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1985 until moving to Yale in 2010. Her 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 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 also 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, and founded The Center for Scientific Teaching at Yale, which provides local and national leadership in transforming classroom teaching in science and engineering. Her leadership in education and women in science led to her appointment as the first President of the Rosalind Franklin Society, her service on the National Academies' panel that wrote the 2006 report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering," appointment as co-Director of the National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology, and her role as co-chair of a working group that produced the report to President Obama, “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”

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; and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. 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 Barack 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
Mailing Address
MCDB KBT 904219 Prospect Street
PO Box 208103

New Haven, CT 06520-8103

Curriculum Vitae

Handelsman Lab Website