Jo Handelsman is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984 and joined the faculty in 1985. Her research focuses on the genetic and functional diversity of microorganisms in soil and insect gut communities. She is one of the pioneers of functional metagenomics, an approach to accessing the genetic potential of unculturable bacteria in environmental samples.

Jo is also nationally known for her efforts to improve science education and increase the participation of women and minorities in science at the university level. In addition to more than 100 scientific research publications, Jo is co-author of two books about teaching: "Entering Mentoring" and "Scientific Teaching". She is the editor-in-chief of DNA and Cell Biology and the series Controversies in Science and Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Life Sciences and the National Institute of Medicine Forum on Microbial Threats. She is a National Academies Mentor in the Life Sciences, a fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and the AAAS, a fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching, and co-Director of the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology. In 2008 she received the Alice Evans Award from the American Society for Microbiology in recognition of her mentoring, in 2009 she received the Carski Award from the American Society for Microbiology in recognition of her teaching contributions, and in 2009, Seed Magazine named her "A Revolutionary Mind" in recognition of her unorthodox ideas.