Karen Elizabeth Nelson, a scientist, was born in Jamaica in 1950 and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. In 1972, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science from the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, and in 1997, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy from Cornell University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology in Ithaca, New York. Tannins and Ruminal Bacteria was the title of her doctoral dissertation. Much of her research and study focuses on the microbiome and various human and animal diseases.
Nelson has over 170 peer-reviewed publications to his credit, has edited three books, and is the current Editor-in-Chief of the journal Microbial Ecology. She is also a member of the editorial boards of BMC Genomics, GigaScience, and Central European Journal of Biology. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board of Life Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, a University of the West Indies Honorary Professor, and a Helmholtz International Fellow.
Nelson published the first human metagenomics study in 2006. She edited Metagenomics of the Human Body in 2010, which discussed primary findings from the human genome project and the crossover to the human metagenome/microbiome. The book also looks into how microbes affect the host immune system. Nelson was named President of The J. Craig Venter Institute, a non-profit research institute based in Rockville, Maryland and La Jolla, California, in 2012.
More than 200 scientists work at the Institute, which coordinates research in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, bioinformatics/ informatics, and information technology. Nelson edited the 748-page Encyclopedia of Metagenomics: Genes, Genomes, and Metagenomes two years later, in 2015. Springer Basics, Methods, Databases, and Tools
Nelson was named the ARCS Scientist of the Year in 2017 and was one of 84 distinguished scientists and 21 foreign associates elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2017. She was inducted into the Indian National Academy of Sciences a year later, in 2018, for her work in the microbial and human microbiome.
Dr. Karen E. Nelson was the keynote speaker at the Digital Life 2020 conference in Oslo, Norway, in 2020. The Centre for Digital Life is a national center for biotechnology research and innovation.