Skip to main content
A background of brown soil with a white outline of earth.

Saving soil: Inaugural Berg Lecture features prominent microbiologist

By Hannah Ashton

Internationally acclaimed microbiologist Jo Handelsman, who served under U.S. President Barack Obama as the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will give the inaugural Berg Lecture on Thursday, April 27 at 5 p.m. RSVP here.

Handelsman studies how bacteria communicate with each other in soil microbial communities and pioneered the field of metagenomics. Through this research, her lab has discovered new antibiotics and biosynthetic pathways.

In her lecture, “A world without soil: Science and stewardship of our endangered natural resource,” Handelsman will discuss the importance of soil and the impacts of climate change and erosion on the world’s soil loss. She will also discuss practices to improve soil health.

Although humans depend on soil for 95% of global food production, soil health is often overlooked. In 2021, Handelsman released a book on the topic, “A world without soil: The past, present, and precarious future of the earth beneath our feet.”

The founder of Tiny Earth, Handelsman is the director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and a Vilas Research Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

Headshot of woman with blonde hair and black glasses wearing a blue shirt.

Microbiologist Jo Handelsman

Handelsman is the author of several books, a leader in education and a champion for increasing diversity in STEM. Since receiving her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in molecular biology, she has authored over 200 scientific research publications, 30 editorials and 29 essays. In 2019, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This lecture series was endowed by College of Science alumni Ron and Ann Berg. The couple met while they were both graduate students in the Department of Microbiology. After graduating, they moved to Ohio where Ron had a 34-year career with Procter & Gamble and Ann had careers as a substitute teacher and trust banker.

"The generous gift from Ron and Ann Berg has enabled the Department of Microbiology to host Dr. Handelsman, an inspirational leader in microbial ecology, having forged inroads into understanding complex microbial communities through their underlying genetics, communication, and environmental impacts,” said Kimberly Halsey, associate professor of microbiology. “Her dedication and impactful contributions to science, education, and inclusivity exemplify the qualities we value and aspire to nurture in our community."