Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, 60 Prescott St, Room 4034
+1 (508) 8315000 x6511
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.

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

Udagawa T*, Farny NG*, Jakovcevski M* et al. Genetic and acute CPEB1 depletion ameliorate fragile X pathophysiology. Nat Med. 2013 Oct 20. doi: 10.1038/nm.3353 (* these authors contributed equally)

Farny NG*, Hurt JA*, Silver PA. Definition of global and transcript-specific mRNA export pathways in metazoans. Genes Dev. 2008 Jan 1;22(1):66-78. Cover Feature. (* these authors contributed equally)

Komili S, Farny NG, Roth FP, Silver PA. Functional specificity among ribosomal proteins regulates gene expression. Cell. 2007 Nov 2;131(3):557-71.

Professional Highlights & Honors
Advancing toward "FULL" representation of women in STEM at WPI, 2018
NSF-ADVANCE, $1M award
Board of Trustees Award for Outstanding Teaching, 2018
FRAXA Foundation Research Fellowship, 2010

Hauser Scholar Award, 2009
Harvard Medical School
Educational Foundation Pre-doctoral Award, 2008
Association for Women in Science


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.