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Ursula W. Goodenough (born March 16, 1943) is a Professor of Biology Emerita Washington University in St. Louis where she engaged in research on eukaryotic algae. She authored the best-selling book The Sacred Depths of Nature, and has presented the paradigm of Religious Naturalism and the Epic of Evolution in numerous venues around the world. She contributed to the NPR blog, 13.7: Cosmos & Culture, from 2009 to 2011.[1] She currently serves as president of the Religious Naturalist Association.

Ursula Goodenough
Goodenough, 1998
BornMarch 16, 1943 (1943-03-16) (age 76)
New York City, NY
Alma materPh.D. Harvard 1969, M.A Columbia University, B.A. Barnard College
Known forAlgal research, Religious Naturalism, Epic of Evolution
Scientific career
FieldsCell biology
InstitutionsWashington University in Saint Louis, Harvard University


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, was elected to the Cellular and Developmental Biology section of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009,[2] and elected a Fellow of the American Society for Microbiology in 2013.[3]

Since 2013, Goodenough has been listed on the Advisory Council of the National Center for Science Education.[4]

Goodenough joined the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) in 1989 and has 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 has written that women balancing the demands of raising children and developing a career need to understand that they can do both. She says that realizing that a child's development is 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 Claude Bernard and earth-scientist Michael Wysession for 10 years in teaching a course called The Epic of Evolution directed at non-science majors. She has also taught graduate-level courses in microbial biology.

Dalai LamaEdit

Ursula Goodenough in Dharamsala, India with Richard Gere, Eric Lander and a Buddhist Bhikkhu
Ursula Goodenough in Dharamsala, India with 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 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 proteins." Goodenough was joined by scientists Stuart Kauffman, Steven Chu and Eric Lander. Goodenough was invited back to Dharamsala, India to lecture again in 2003.


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 analysis of their function and their evolution during speciation. They have also explored the potential for producing algal biodiesel as a transportation fuel.


  1. ^ Goodenough's Contributions to NPR
  2. ^ Three elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009
  3. ^ Eighty-Seven Scientists Elected to the American Academy of Microbiology
  4. ^ "Advisory Council". National Center for Science Education. Archived from the original on 2013-08-10. Retrieved 2018-10-30.

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