Microbiologist Jo Handelsman, a pioneer in metagenomics research who is currently serving in a key White House science-policy post, presented the Patrusky Lecture on October 11, 2015, at New Horizons in Science, CASW’s annual briefing on emerging research and issues in science.
Handelsman, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and Frederick Phineas Rose Professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University, is currently Associate Director for Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her White House work focuses on advancing basic research and developing targeted areas in biological research, STEM education, and diversity in science.
In her talk, "The Earth's Microbiomes: Opportunities for Research and Policy," she provided an update on these initiatives to the writers gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., for ScienceWriters2015, a conference that combines the New Horizons science program with the professional development workshops of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).
"Hearing from Dr. Handelsman at this year's Patrusky Lecture will be a triple treat," said CASW President Alan Boyle, who is also science editor for NBC News, in announcing the choice of Handelsman for the third lecture. "We’d be lucky to find someone so knowledgeable about the frontiers of biology, or so committed to diversity in science and education, or so plugged in to the workings of the White House. To have all three of those qualities wrapped up in one speaker is a true trifecta."
“I am excited to be returning to the CASW meeting, and it is an unexpected honor to be asked to deliver the Patrusky lecture,” Handelsman said. “I want to congratulate Ben on this recognition of his work. Science writing like Ben’s represents the ideals of accuracy, integrity, and social good to which we all aspire in our scientific work.”
Handelsman was appointed to her current role by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in June 2014. Reporting to OSTP Director John P. Holdren, she helps advise the President on science policy and Federal support for research. Before joining the White House, she had been recognized for her research on science education and her promotion of opportunities for women and minorities in science. She received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2011 and also co-chaired the PCAST working group that developed “Engage to Excel,” a 2012 report making recommendations for strengthening STEM education to meet workforce needs.
During her White House service, Handelsman’s Yale laboratory is continuing its work under the direction of two of her former graduate students, carrying out studies to understand diversity in microbial communities and the role of these communities in infectious disease. Current research uses the fruit fly gut as a model for the microbiology of the human gut and also employs functional metagenomics to probe microbial communities’ genetic and biochemical diversity.
Handelsman earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and joined UW’s plant pathology faculty in 1985. After serving in a number of roles, including chair of the Department of Bacteriology, she moved to Yale in 2010. At both universities she has been instrumental in founding and directing programs that teach the principles and practices of evidence-based education to current and future faculty at colleges and universities nationwide. Her teaching, mentorship and research have been recognized with a number of awards. She has also served the scientific community in numerous roles as a panel member, peer reviewer and journal editor and as president of the American Society for Microbiology.
The Patrusky Lectures were launched by CASW in 2013 to honor Ben Patrusky, executive director of CASW for 25 years and director of the New Horizons in Science program for 30 years. Handelsman has been an invited speaker at New Horizons in Science twice before, in 1994 and 2001. The first and second Patrusky Lectures were given by George M. Whitesides of Harvard University and Donald Johanson of the Institute of Human Origins, respectively. Video recordings of all Patrusky Lectures may be found on the Patrusky Lectures page.