Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, 60 Prescott St, Room 4034
Affiliated Department or Office
B.S Boston College 2000
Ph.D Harvard University 2009
Postdoc University of Massachusetts Medical School 2009-2013

My lab works broadly in the emerging field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology seeks to apply engineering design principles to the understanding and creation of biological systems. I use synthetic biology to design biosensors and bioremediation strategies for various environmental contaminants that impact human health, including lead, arsenic, and other toxic substances. We apply the tools of synthetic biology to address global challenges related to water, soil, and human health. Our water and soil applications focus around understanding how we can use genetically engineered microbes (GEMs) to detect and remediate contaminants in the environment. We use laboratory models of water and soil environments to measure, predict, and control GEM performance in a target environment.

Synthetic biology also has tremendous potential to positively influence human health. When cells are stressed by environmental factors, heavy metal poisoning or extreme temperatures, they will conserve resources by restricting protein synthesis. Under certain stress conditions, some cells will gather the translationally silenced mRNAs into cytoplasmic foci known as stress granules (SGs). We believe that the formation of SGs enhances cellular survival during periods of stress, though the dynamics of their formation and dissolution remain unclear. We are applying synthetic biology principles to create new tools to study SGs, and to understand how ubiquitous compounds in water and food including bisphenols (BPA) and heavy metals, affect the health and survival of human cells under both normal and disease conditions.

One of the best things about teaching at WPI is the emphasis on practice, experience, and impact. Through project work, students get the opportunity to put their classroom learning into action for the benefit of society. The students of WPI are here to change the world, and I feel privileged to be able to help give them the analytical tools they need to accomplish their goals. I employ active learning in my classrooms whenever possible – through the use of case studies, group problem-solving, and polling software – because I believe that the best way for a student to understand a concept is to apply that concept to the solution of a practical problem.

Visit Digital WPI to view student research and projects advised by Professor Farny.

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 3: Good Health & Well-Being

SDG 3: Good Health & Well-Being - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

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SDG 5: Gender Equality

SDG 5: Gender Equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

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SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

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SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities - Reduce inequality within and among countries

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SDG 13: Climate Action

SDG 13: Climate Action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

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SDG 15: Life on Land

SDG 15: Life on Land - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

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Scholarly Work

Professor Farny’s research focuses on the emerging field of synthetic biology, with special interest in using biomolecules and engineered biological systems to sense and remediate environmental hazards, and understanding the biological effects of contaminant exposures, particularly in regulating the cellular stress response. 

Professional Highlights & Honors
NSF CAREER award ($1.2M) , 2024 - 2029

Review Editor, Frontiers in Biophysics, Coacervates and Biological Condensates Section, 2023

NIH Prize for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science, 2021

Environmental Protection Agency Early Career Award, 2021 - 2024

NSF-ADVANCE, Advancing toward "FULL" representation of women in STEM at WPI ($1M), 2018

Board of Trustees Award for Outstanding Teaching (WPI), 2018


Worcester Business Journal
WPI researcher receives $1.2M to study the use of bacteria for environmental cleanups

Natalie Farny, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and Biotechnology, has received funding from the National Science Foundation to advance the use of bacteria in the cleanup of contaminated soil. Farny will study how a critical biological process regulates genes in bacteria as they adapt to conditions outside of laboratories.



Worcester Business Journal
WPI professors raise ethical questions on CRISPR breakthrough

The Worcester Business Journal covered a WPI forum on the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR. Noted in the article were: Dean, Arts and Sciences, Jean King; Assistant Professor, Social Science, Patricia Stapleton; Associate Professor, Humanities and Arts Bethel Eddy; Associate Professor, Biology and Biotechnology, Rita Rao; and Associate Teaching Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Destin Heilman.