Press Release

Karen E. Nelson, Ph.D., Named Director of J. Craig Venter Institute Rockville, MD Campus

Nelson Joins Robert M. Friedman, Ph.D., Director of JCVI San Diego, CA Campus, as Senior Leaders Reporting to J. Craig Venter, Ph.D.

ROCKVILLE, MD — December 7, 2009  The J. Craig Venter Institute announced today that Karen E. Nelson, Ph.D. has been named Director of the JCVI Rockville, MD campus. Dr. Nelson and Robert Friedman, Ph.D., Director of the San Diego, CA facility since 2008, are senior leaders of the two campuses of the JCVI and report directly to J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Founder and President, JCVI. She replaces Robert Strausberg who is leaving JCVI January 8, 2010 to join the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) Ltd as Director for Collaborative Sciences. Dr. Strausberg will maintain a joint position at JCVI and will continue cancer genomic collaborations between JCVI and LICR.

"Karen's impressive career accomplishments — from the Thermotoga genome sequencing program she first undertook when she came to JCVI, to her more recent work on the human microbiome, coupled with her long tenure at the Institute made her a logical choice to lead JCVI's Rockville headquarters," said Dr. Venter. "I look forward to working with her in this new role as she helps expand the innovative research programs at our Maryland campus."

Dr. Nelson, who joined JCVI's legacy organization, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in 1996, has steadily risen to become one of the leaders in the fields of microbial and metagenomics research. As Director of JCVI's Human Microbiology and Metagenomics group, Dr. Nelson has significantly advanced the emerging field of human metagenomics by cataloguing and understanding the microbes that inhabit the human body. She is a key investigator on the large, multi-center grant from the National Institutes of Health's Human Microbiome Project. The goal of this project is to sequence and understand the microbes that live in the human body and their contribution to human health and disease. Dr. Nelson and her group were part of a national team of researchers who completed the first comprehensive survey of the human gastrointestinal tract. She and her team continue this groundbreaking work and will be publishing new results in the near future.

Dr. Nelson has extensive experience in microbial ecology and genomics, and microbial physiology.  In 1999 at TIGR she led the whole genome sequencing of Thermotoga maritima MSB8, a bacterium isolated in water from a thermal vent off the coast of Italy. This was a landmark publication which provided key evolutionary insight into bacteria such as Thermotoga by proving the notion of lateral gene transfer. Dr. Nelson has also led other important genome sequencing and analysis projects including a Pseudomonas putida KT2440 genome, the comparative analyses of Listeria monocytogenes strains, and Campylobacter species, Fibrobacter succinogenes, Ruminococcus albus, Salinibacter ruber and Arthrobacter aurescens

Dr. Nelson has authored or co-authored more than 90 publications, and is currently Editor-in-Chief of the journal Microbial Ecology.  She is also a standing member of the NRC Committee on Biodefense, and a member of the American Society for Microbiology Communications Committee. Dr. Nelson received her B.Sc. in Animal Science from the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, her M.Sc. in Animal Science from the University of Florida, Gainesville and her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Cornell University.

Dr. Strausberg began his career with JCVI in 2003 as Vice President for Research at TIGR after leaving the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute. After that he joined JCVI and led the Human Genomic Medicine team in their efforts to sequence, analyze and publish in 2007 the first diploid human genome. He was also instrumental in leading several important sequencing grants and contracts. In his new role at LICR Dr. Strausberg will be overseeing initiatives on melanoma, brain, breast and colon cancers as part of the Institute's leadership. He will work directly with the LICR Scientific Director, Dr. Andrew Simpson, and with the LICR Scientific Advisory Committee.

Dr. Venter commented, "I am grateful to Bob for his years of service to the Venter Institute especially his work on the human genomics program and his leadership on the many important grants and contracts awarded to JCVI. I look forward to continuing collaborations with him and LICR on our cancer genomics projects." 

About the J. Craig Venter Institute

The JCVI is a not-for-profit research institute in Rockville, MD and San Diego, CA dedicated to the advancement of the science of genomics; the understanding of its implications for society; and communication of those results to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers. Founded by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., the JCVI is home to approximately 400 scientists and staff with expertise in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, bioinformatics/informatics, information technology, high-throughput DNA sequencing, genomic and environmental policy research, and public education in science and science policy. The legacy organizations of the JCVI are: The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), The Center for the Advancement of Genomics (TCAG), the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA), the Joint Technology Center (JTC), and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation. The JCVI is a 501 (c)(3) organization. For additional information, please visit http://www.JCVI.org.


Heather Kowalski