Ruth Ley is currently the Managing Director of Max Planck Institute for Biology, Tübingen, where she is the Director of the Department of Microbiome Science since 2016. She is also acting as co-Speaker for the Cluster of Excellence “Controlling Microbiomes to Fight Infection” with the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Ley received a BA in Integrative Biology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1992, a PhD from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2001. She received a NRC-NASA Fellowship for post-doctoral work with Dr. Norman Pace at CU Boulder. In 2004 she moved to Washington University School of Medicine to work with Dr. Jeffrey Gordon on the human microbiome. She was named an Instructor in 2005 and a Research Assistant Professor at Washington University School of Medicine in 2007. In July 2008, Ley joined the Department of Microbiology at Cornell University as an Assistant Professor, and in 2013 became an Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. She is a Member of the Max Planck Society since 2016.

Ley’s awards include a Fellowship in Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the ISME Young Investigator Award, and the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine. She is a member of EMBO, of the European Academy of Microbiology, and of the American Academy of Microbiology. In 2020 she was elected to the Leopoldina German National Academy of Sciences. She is the recipient of the 2020 Otto Bayer award, and an ERC Advanced Grant (2024).

Ruth Ley’s early contributions to microbiome research:

In 2005-2006, three key publications for the first time showed that the gut microbiome can drive disease (at that time, microbiome diversity studies conducted in humans did not include a disease context). First, Ruth Ley, Jeffrey Gordon and colleagues observed that the gut microbiome of genetically obese mice differed in composition from that of wildtype littermates (Ley et al., PNAS 2005). Ley made this discovery with techniques she brought to the laboratory of Gordon: this includes the first pubication of the UniFrac tool developed by Cathy Lozupone and Rob Knight at CU Boulder. Subsequently, Peter Turnbaugh made the discovery that the microbiome of obese mice was sufficient to confer a metabolically disordered phenotype to germfree mouse recipients (Turnbaugh et al,, Nature 2006). Concurrently, Ley made the discovery that the same disordered microbiome was associated with obesity in humans (Ley et al., Nature 2006), thus making the mouse findings relevant in humans. These three early cornerstone publications launched the study of the microbiome in the context of disease on a large scale and across biomedical disciplines.

Ley et al. PNAS USA 31: 11070 (2005)

Turnbaugh et al. Nature 444: 1027 (2006)

Ley et al. Nature 444: 1022 (2006)