Published: Oct. 22, 2020
Lisa Marshall standing in a mountain field.

CU Boulder senior science editor Lisa Marshall has earned a prestigious writing award for her story examining how digging in the dirt might be good for your health. 

At a virtual event on Monday, Oct. 19, the National Association of Science Writers presented Marshall, who works in Strategic Relations and Communications, with this year’s Excellence in Institutional Writing Award in the short-form category. It is one of the top honors that a science writer working for a research institution can earn. 

Marshall’s award-winning article, “Healthy, stress-busting fat found hidden in the dirt,” delved into research by Christopher Lowry, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at CU Boulder. Lowry and his colleagues explore how exposure to “old friends,” or beneficial microbes in soil, can improve peoples’ mental health.

In their announcement, award organizers called Marshall’s handling of the topic “both entertaining and effective—masterfully done!”

The award ceremony was part of ScienceWriters2020, an annual gathering of science writers from across the country. 

CU Boulder and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus were scheduled to co-host this year’s conference but changed plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the two campuses will bring hundreds of science communicators together in 2021. 

Marshall, who grew up in Englewood, joined CU Boulder’s campus news team in 2017. She had previously worked as a reporter and editor for the Boulder Daily Camera and as a freelance health and science writer, getting pieces published in Discover, Men’s Journal, Runner’s World and Vice News among other national news outlets. 

She’s written about everything from sleep disorders to the joys of cliff camping. As a member of CU Boulder’s Strategic Media Relations team, she specializes in covering health research and political, information and social sciences, among other topics.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science from CU Boulder and is presently working on a master’s degree in multimedia journalism from the College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI). 

In the May 2019 story for which she was honored, Marshall described a study by Lowry and his colleagues that identified a fat in soil-dwelling bacteria that could be responsible for improving human health. She wrote:

They discovered that inside cells, the lipid acted like a key in a lock, binding to a specific receptor called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR), and inhibiting a host of key pathways which drive inflammation. They also found that when cells were pre-treated with the lipid they were more resistant to inflammation when stimulated.

“It seems that these bacteria we co-evolved with have a trick up their sleeve,” said Lowry. “When they get taken up by immune cells, they release these lipids that bind to this receptor and shut off the inflammatory cascade.”

In her free time, Marshall enjoys going on trail runs that are exhausting for others to even hear about, and nurturing chickens, tomatoes and other plants and animals at her mountain home with her husband.  

“We are so proud of Lisa,” said news director Julie Poppen. “You are only as good as the people you hire; and this honor demonstrates the incredible talent we have at CU Boulder in communicating about research and creative works in a way that is relatable and of high interest to the media.” 

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