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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 200 peer reviewed publications, edited three books, and is currently Editor-in-Chief of the journal Microbial Ecology.

Dr. Nelson is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. Other honors include being named ARCS Scientist of the Year 2017; a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology; being inducted into the Indian National Academy of Sciences in 2018; and being appointed an Honorary Professor at the University of the West Indies as well as 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


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Select Publications

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