Biology and Biotechnology


J. B. Duffy, Associate Professor and Department Head ad interim; Ph.D., University of Texas; signal transduction and cell adhesion mechanisms in development and disease, cancer biology, neuronal development.

D. S. Adams, Professor; Ph.D., University of Texas; design of neurotrophic factors for treating stroke, human stem cell matrices for treating spinal cord injuries.

T. C. Crusberg, Professor Emeritus; Ph.D., Clark University; heavy metal bioremediation, cryptobiotic desert soil crusts as indicators of environmental change.

T. Dominko, Associate Professor; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison; regenerative cell biology, reproductive/ developmental biology.

R. J. Gegear, Assistant Professor; Ph.D., University of Western Ontario; behavioral/ evolutionary ecology, neuroethology, pollination biology.

D. G. Gibson III, Assistant Professor; Ph.D., Boston University; amino acid neurotransmitters, arthropod hormones and growth factors, invertebrate neuromuscular junctions.

L. M. Mathews, Associate Professor; Ph.D., University of Louisiana; population genetics and evolution of marine and aquatic invertebrates, design and application of molecular genetic tools for ecological research, conservation biology.

K. K. Oates, Professor and Dean of Arts & Sciences; Ph.D., The George Washington University Biochemistry; thymic hormone characterization, monoclonal antibody production, immunology of disease, undergraduate STEM education, STEM Education for Development.

E. W. Overström, Professor and Provost; Ph.D., University of Massachusetts-Amherst; oocyte biology, developmental cell biology, animal somatic cell cloning.

S. M. Politz, Associate Professor; Ph.D., UCLA. genetic control of surface glycoprotein expression in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans; chemosensory control of nematode behavior and development; host immune responses to parasitic nematode infections.

R. Prusty Rao, Assistant Professor; Ph.D., Penn State University Medical School; fungal pathogenesis and its regulation by small molecules, genomic screens for novel virulence factors as antifungal drug targets, genetic modification of yeast for biofuels.

J. Rulfs, Associate Professor; Ph.D., Tufts University; cell culture model systems of signal transduction, metabolic effects of phytoestrogens, cultured cells in tissue engineering.

E. F. Ryder, Associate Professor; M.S. Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health; Ph.D. Genetics, Harvard University; nervous system development using C. elegans as a genetic model, bioinformatics approaches to understanding gene expression, computer simulations of development.

L. Vidali, Assistant Professor; Ph.D., University of Massachusetts-Amherst; plant cell biology and molecular genetics, live cell microscopy, molecular motors/ cytoskeleton.

P. J. Weathers, Professor; Ph.D., Michigan State University; biology of in vitro cultured plants and their tissues, plant secondary metabolism, bioreactor development for plant and animal tissues, process development for plant products.

Research Interests

Faculty in the Biology and Biotechnology Department has research interests in a range of areas including but not limited to the research foci listed below. Students seeking a graduate degree in biology and biotechnology engage in directed study with one of the department’s faculty in his or her research specialty area. The department strongly recommends that, prior to applying, students review the information at the department’s Web site to help identify potential faculty advisors.

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Areas of focus: Cytoskeletal dynamics, epigenetics/gene regulation, and signal transduction mechanisms

Model systems: C. elegans, Drosophila, M. Musculus, Physcomitrella, and S. cerevisae

Faculty: Dave Adams, Tanja Dominko, J. B. Duffy, Rob Gegear, Lauren Mathews, Eric Overström, Sam Politz, Reeta Prusty Rao, Jill Rulfs, Liz Ryder, and Luis Vidali.

Development, Neurobiology, and Organismal Biology

Areas of focus: Cancer biology, regenerative medicine, neuronal migration and degeneration, pathogenic mechanisms, and plant biology

Model systems: C. elegans, Drosophila, M. Musculus, Physcomitrella, and C. albicans/S. cerevisae

Faculty: Dave Adams, Tanja Dominko, J. B. Duffy, Rob Gegear, Dan Gibson, Liz Ryder, Sam Politz, Reeta Prusty Rao, Luis Vidali, and Pam Weathers.

Behavioral and Environmental Biology

Areas of focus: Animal behavior, biological diversity, brain plasticity, pollinator ecology, and plant biology

Model systems: Apis mellifera, Monarch butterflies, Orconectes, and Drosophila

Faculty: Rob Gegear, Lauren Mathews, J. B. Duffy, and Pam Weathers.

Programs of Study

With the advent of genomics, the 21st Century has been termed a “revolutionary” era in Biology and Biotechnology. The Department of Biology and Biotechnology (BB) is perfectly situated for this transition with the construction of the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park. This interdisciplinary state-of-the-art building integrates Life Sciences and Bioengineering graduate programs at WPI in addition to housing a number of technology centers and biotechnology start-ups.

The Department offers a fulltime research-oriented program for incoming graduate students, leading to either a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in biotechnology or Masters (M.S.) degree in biology and biotechnology. These programs require students to successfully complete a set of required courses in the field and a thesis project or dissertation that applies the basic principles of biology and biotechnology using hypothesis driven experimental methods to address a specific research problem.

Graduates will have a broad knowledge of the field of biology and biotechnology, a detailed knowledge in their area of specialization, a working knowledge of modern research tools, a strong appreciation for scientific research in theoretical and experimental areas, and a foundation for lifelong learning and experimenting, both individually and as part of a team. Students who complete these programs will be well prepared for careers in the academic and private sectors or further graduate education.

Application and Admission

Applications should be made to either the M.S. program in biology and biotechnology or the Ph.D. program in biotechnology. The department accepts applications for admission to the Fall semester only. Applicants should indicate that they wish to be considered for Fall admission.

Degree Requirements

M.S. in Biology and Biotechnology

Students pursuing the M.S. degree in biology and biotechnology must complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of course and theses work, six of which must be thesis research credits. In addition, M.S. students must successfully complete (grade of B or higher) as minimum of three graduate courses appropriate to their area of study (subject to pre-approval by their thesis committee) and the graduate seminar (BB 501, 1 credit in every semester registered for full-time study). Students must assemble an Advisory Committee of three faculty members of which a minimum of two must be biology and biotechnology program faculty members. One of the biology and biotechnology faculty members will chair the committee and be the student’s faculty advisor. The Advisory Committee must review and approve each M.S. student’s program of study and thesis research.

Ph.D. in Biotechnology

In addition to the WPI requirements, a dissertation (minimum of 30 credit hours) and dissertation defense is required of all Ph.D. students. It is the intention of the faculty that doctoral students develop skills not only in their research area, but also receive training in interdisciplinary approaches to research, presentation skills (oral and written), pedagogical approaches, experimental design, and professional ethics within the life sciences. Specific operational details of the program, including the qualifying exam and dissertation defense, can be found in the Biology and Biotechnology graduate handbook.


In order to graduate, at least one manuscript should be submitted for publication in a refereed journal and at least one paper must have been presented at a national or international conference.

Qualifying Exam, Reports and Dissertation Defense

A Ph.D. qualifying exam is required and should be taken prior to the end of the second year of study. A majority of the Examining Committee must be members of the biology and biotechnology department faculty. The committee must also approve the student’s dissertation research proposal and review student’s progress through committee meetings. Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must give annual presentations of their research work to the department as part of the graduate seminar course. A public defense of the completed dissertation is required of all students and will be followed immediately by a defense before the Examining Committee. All members of the Examining Committee must be present for the defense.

Research Facilities and Centers

Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center (LSBC)

Located in Gateway Park, the world-class, 124,600-square-foot LSBC was built in 2007 and serves as the school’s focal point for graduate education and research in the life sciences and related bioengineering fields. It’s also home to life sciences companies, state-of-the-art core facilities, and WPI’s Corporate and Professional Education division.

The Core facilities include an Imaging core providing a wide range of imaging capabilities for live and fixed samples including Confocal microscopy with FRET and FRAP, Atomic Force Microscopy, and microinjection/manipulation and histology capabilities; an Analytical core, with NMR, Atomic-absorption (AA) spectroscopy, LC-MS and GC-MS capabilities; and Molecular Cores for DNA/RNA/ tissue work. Additional shared common spaces include centralized facilities for waste disposal, media preparation as well as dishwashing. The facility is part of the WPI-University of Massachusetts Consortium which allows researchers at both institutions to access facilities and services at the other institution at “in-house” rates.

Bioengineering Institute (BEI)

Located within the LSBC, the Bioengineering Institute, an interdisciplinary research and development organization, blends academic, industry, and government partnerships to develop and commercialize life sciences-based technologies. In BEI’s seven multidisciplinary centers, scientists, engineers, and clinicians address important research challenges in several major areas of medical technology and healthcare, including neuroprosthetics, bioprocessing, imaging, nanotechnology, remote diagnostics and treatment, sensing, and water quality.

Bioprocessing Center (BPC)

Researchers at the BPC design and develop scalable processes for drug manufacturing. The BPC contracts with biotechnology companies, to supply drug targets in research quantities and conduct lab- and pilot-scale process development.

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