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Jo Handelsman focuses on the genetic and functional diversity of microorganisms living in communities with particular emphasis on the role of small molecules such as antibiotics in microbial interactions. Handelsman has developed several education initiatives that focus on training faculty in use of scientific teaching methods in the classroom and in mentoring students in research. She created Tiny Earth, an initiative that unites her research and education interests in a research course focused on antibiotic discovery and includes a global network of approximately 10,000 undergraduates per year. Handelsman also developed a research course for freshmen that involves hunting for new antibiotics among soil bacteria, using the research activity as the foundation for motivating learning about fundamental biology.