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Karen E. Nelson, Ph.D. is the President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). Prior to being appointed President, she held a number of other positions at the Institute, including Director of JCVI's Rockville Campus, and Director of Human Microbiology and Metagenomics in the Department of Human Genomic Medicine at JCVI. Dr. Nelson received her undergraduate degree from the University of the West Indies, and her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She has authored or co-authored over 170 peer reviewed publications, edited three books, and is currently Editor-in-Chief of the journal Microbial Ecology. She also serves on the Editorial Boards of BMC Genomics, GigaScience, and the Central European Journal of Biology. 

Dr. Nelson is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and serves on their Board of Life Sciences. Other honors include being named ARCS Scientist of the Year 2017; a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology; an Honorary Professor at the University of the West Indies; and a Helmholtz International Fellow.

Dr. Nelson has extensive experience in microbial ecology, microbial genomics, microbial physiology and metagenomics. Dr. Nelson has led several genomic and metagenomic efforts, and led the first human metagenomics study that was published in 2006. Additional ongoing studies in her group include metagenomic approaches to study the ecology of the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals, studies on the relationship between the microbiome and various human and animal disease conditions, reference genome sequencing and analysis primarily for the human body, and other -omics studies.

Research Priorities

Microbiome in health and disease

  • Interrogating microbiome profiles and host microbe interactions

Emergence of Antimicrobial Resistance

  • Understanding the intricate play between infectious species, gene transfer and the emergence of resistance

Understanding Resistance mechanisms in microbial species

  • Deep investigations into how microbes respond to different types of drugs

Identification of novel species

  • In different environments including the oral cavity, plants, and artic sediments

Zoo in You Traveling Exhibition

Resolving the Bottleneck in Antibiotic Discovery

Signature Infiltration and Maintenance on Plasmid Elements creating a Forensic Microbial System (SIMPLE-FMS)

Human Hair Microbiota

The Rudy Ruggles Systems Biology Study to Identify and Elucidate Healthy Aging Biomarkers

Characterizing the Microbial Communities in Caribbean Environments

Genome Sequencing of Atypical Disease-associated and Emerging Infectious Disease Isolates of the Biodefense Category B Food and Water Borne Priority Pathogen Campylobacter Jejuni, and Related Species

Comprehensive Genome Sequencing of Nontyphoidal Salmonellae

Gut Microbiome Sysbiosis in Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) Patients

The Effect of Xylitol Consumption on the Oral Microbiome

Leonardo da Vinci DNA Project

The Nasopharynx Microbiome and Pneumococcal Vaccination in Filipino and South African Infants

A Study of the Relationship Between the Oral Microbiome and Caries Status of Young Twins

Gut Microbiome-Based Metagenomic Signature for Non-Invasive Detection of Advanced Fibrosis in Human Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Urinary Proteomics for Host-Pathogen Interaction Analysis and Diagnosis of Urinary Tract Infections

Progression of Esophageal Cancer

Seasonal Succession in the High Arctic

Respiratory Microbiome Associated with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Disease Severity and Transmission

Human Microbiome Project

Gastrointestinal Microbial Community Composition and Habitat Structure in Howler Monkeys (Alouatta pigra)

Diet Drives Specific Taxa, While Phylogeny Acts More Broadly in Vervets Fed a Western Diet

The Gastrointestinal Microbiota Composition and Function of Free Range Wild Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) Mirrors Macro-Ecological Patterns

A Metagenomics Approach to Understanding the Relationship Between the Vaginal Microbiome, Bacterial Vaginosis, Vaginal Health and Preterm Birth

Enteric Dysbiosis Associated with a Mouse Model of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Next Generation Sequencing to Define Prokaryotic and Fungal Diversity in the Bovine Rumen

Antimicrobial Resistance of the Coral Pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus and Caribbean Sister Phylotypes Isolated from a Diseased Octocoral

The Montastraea faveolata Microbiome: Ecological and Temporal Influences on a Caribbean Reef-Building Coral in Decline

Novel Diversity of Bacterial Communities Associated with Bottlenose Dolphin Upper Respiratory Tracts

Comparative Metagenomics Reveals Host Specific Metavirulomes and Horizontal Gene Transfer Elements in the Chicken Cecum Microbiome

Microbiome in human health and disease.
Science progress. 2013-01-01; 96.Pt 2: 153-70.
PMID: 23901633
Microbiome analysis of stool samples from African Americans with colon polyps.
PloS one. 2013-01-01; 8.12: e81352.
PMID: 24376500
Quantification of the relative roles of niche and neutral processes in structuring gastrointestinal microbiomes.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012-06-19; 109.25: 9692-8.
PMID: 22615407
Bacterial translocation and changes in the intestinal microbiome in mouse models of liver disease.
Journal of hepatology. 2012-06-01; 56.6: 1283-92.
PMID: 22326468
Cloud BioLinux: pre-configured and on-demand bioinformatics computing for the genomics community.
BMC bioinformatics. 2012-03-19; 13.42.
PMID: 22429538
Molecular analysis of the diversity of vaginal microbiota associated with bacterial vaginosis.
BMC genomics. 2010-09-07; 11.488.
PMID: 20819230
Bacterial diversity in the oral cavity of 10 healthy individuals.
The ISME journal. 2010-08-01; 4.8: 962-74.
PMID: 20336157
Insights into plant cell wall degradation from the genome sequence of the soil bacterium Cellvibrio japonicus.
Journal of bacteriology. 2008-08-01; 190.15: 5455-63.
PMID: 18556790
Population diversity and dynamics of Streptococcus mitis, Streptococcus oralis, and Streptococcus infantis in the upper respiratory tracts of adults, determined by a nonculture strategy.
Infection and immunity. 2008-05-01; 76.5: 1889-96.
PMID: 18316382
Metagenomic analysis of the human distal gut microbiome.
Science (New York, N.Y.). 2006-06-02; 312.5778: 1355-9.
PMID: 16741115
Chromosome evolution in the Thermotogales: large-scale inversions and strain diversification of CRISPR sequences.
Journal of bacteriology. 2006-04-01; 188.7: 2364-74.
PMID: 16547022
Molecular analysis of the bacterial microbiota in the human stomach.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2006-01-17; 103.3: 732-7.
PMID: 16407106
Diversity of the human intestinal microbial flora.
Science (New York, N.Y.). 2005-06-10; 308.5728: 1635-8.
PMID: 15831718
Major structural differences and novel potential virulence mechanisms from the genomes of multiple campylobacter species.
PLoS biology. 2005-01-01; 3.1: e15.
PMID: 15660156