Ursula Goodenough

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Ursula Goodenough
Goodenough, 1998
Born March 16, 1943 (1943-03-16) (age 73)
New York City, NY
Fields Cell biology
Institutions Washington University in Saint Louis, Harvard University
Alma mater Ph.D. Harvard 1969, M.A Columbia University, B.A. Barnard College
Known for Algal research, Religious Naturalism, Epic of Evolution

Ursula W. Goodenough (born March 16, 1943) is a Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis where she engages in research on eukaryotic algae. She also authored the best-selling book Sacred Depths of Nature, and has presented the paradigm of Religious Naturalism and the Epic of Evolution numerous venues around the world including a Mind and Life dialogue with the Dalai Lama in 2002. She has also participated in television productions on PBS and The History Channel, as well as NPR radio broadcasting.[1] Goodenough contributed to the NPR blog, 13.7: Cosmos & Culture, from 2009 to 2011.[2] She currently serves as president of the Religious Naturalist Association.


Ursula Goodenough, daughter of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough and Evelyn Goodenough Pitcher, earned a B.A. in zoology from Barnard College, an M.A. in zoology at Columbia University and her Ph.D. in Biology at Harvard University. She was an assistant and associate professor of biology at Harvard from 1971-1978 before moving to Washington University. She wrote three editions of a widely adopted textbook, Genetics. She served as president of The American Society for Cell Biology in 1984-85, and was elected to the Cellular and Developmental Biology section of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.

Goodenough joined the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) in 1989 and served continuously on its council and as its president for four years. She has presented papers and seminars on science and religion to numerous audiences, co-chaired six IRAS conferences on Star Island, and serves on the editorial board of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.


Goodenough, with her daughter Mathea, and Harry Belafonte at Goodenough's home on Martha's Vineyard.

Goodenough believes that the critical success factor for women balancing the demands of raising children and developing a career is knowing that you can do both. She says that realizing that a child's development are influenced by many people in their lives other than their mother has helped her achieve both her personal and professional goals. She is the mother of five children: Jason, Mathea, Jessica, Thomas, and James.


Goodenough Lectures in team-taught Epic of Evolution (WUSTL)

Goodenough taught a junior/senior level cell biology course at Washington University for many years. She also joined physicist Clifford Will and earth-scientist Michael Wysession for 10 years in teaching a course called The Epic of Evolution directed at non-science majors. She currently teaches graduate-level courses in microbial biology.

Dalai Lama[edit]

Ursula Goodenough in Dharamsala, India with Richard Gere, Eric Lander and a Buddhist Bhikkhu
Ursula Goodenough in Dharamsala, India with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In 2002, Ursula Goodenough was a member of a five-scientist panel invited by the Mind and Life Institute as part of an ongoing series of seminars on Western science for His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and his inner circle of monk-scholars. Previous seminars explored particle physics and neuroscience. This was the Dalai Lama's first foray into cellular biology. Goodenough found him a quick study: "He's very interested in science and really wants to understand this stuff. We'd been told that he knew about DNA and proteins, but when I started it became clear that he had very little background. Of course, one is left to wonder how many of the world's leaders understand DNA protein." Goodenough was joined by scientists Stuart Kauffman, Per Luigi Luisi, Steven Chu and Eric Lander on her next trip to India. Goodenough was invited back to Dharamsala, India to lecture again in 2005.


mating Chlamydomonas

Goodenough and colleagues have studied the molecular basis and evolution of life-cycle transitions in the flagellated green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. They have identified genes in the mating-type (mt) locus and genes regulated by mt that control the transition between vegetative growth and gametic differentiation and zygote development. These include genes responsible for mate recognition, uniparental inheritance of chloroplast DNA, and gametic differentiation, allowing them to study their function and their evolution during speciation. Recently they have explored the potential for producing algal biodiesel as a transportation fuel.[3] Dr. Ursula Goodenough was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009 to Section 2 – Cellular and Development Biology, Microbiology and Immunology (including Genetics).[4]


  1. ^ The American Society for Cell Biology
  2. ^ NPR
  3. ^ Research publications from the Goodenough lab are listed here
  4. ^ Academy Announces 2009 Class of Fellows retrieved 7/09/09

External links[edit]