Portrait of Reeta Rao
Gateway Park, GP 4014
+1 (508) 8315000 x6120
Affiliated Department or Office
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
UMass Chan Medical School Inst. Drug Resistance
PhD Pennsylvania State University 1999
Postdoc Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research 2005

A member of the WPI faculty since 2004 and chair of the Department of Biology and Biotechnology since 2022, Reeta Rao is a leader in the field of molecular genetics and genomics. Her primary research activities are focused on emerging infectious diseases, specifically understanding and managing fungal diseases. Students and research associates in her laboratory are trained to use a variety of biochemical, molecular-genetic, and genomic tools to study host-microbe interactions to explore fungal virulence strategies and identify novel therapeutics in a high throughput fashion.   

Professor Rao cares deeply about the career and professional development of scientists at all levels of training. She is committed to keeping researchers engaged in science through workforce development opportunities aimed at recruiting, retaining and improving the critical skills, knowledge, and resources required for academia as well as the industry. She teaches a course entitled Plagues of the Modern World, Medical Microbiology to students interested in a career in the health care industry or anyone who cares to learn about infectious diseases. She enjoys mentoring and working with doctoral, master, and undergraduate students. One of the highlights of her career in 2018 was receiving the Waksman Outstanding Teaching Award from the Society of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology.  

Prof. Rao enjoys affiliate appointments at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (Cambridge) as well as the Institute of Drug Resistance at the Univ. of Mass Chan Medical School (Worcester) and served as WPI’s inaugural Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Visit Digital WPI to view student projects advised by Professor Rao.


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 4: Quality Education

SDG 4: Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

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SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy 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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Scholarly Work

Professor Rao's research focuses on understanding and managing fungal diseases.

Featured works:

Muñoz, J.F., Delorey, T., Ford, C.B., Li, B.Y., Thompson, D.A., Rao, R.P. and Cuomo, C.A., 2019. Coordinated host-pathogen transcriptional dynamics revealed using sorted subpopulations and single macrophages infected with Candida albicans. Nature communications, 10(1), pp.1-15.

Ford, C.B., Funt, J.M., Abbey, D., Issi, L., Guiducci, C., Martinez, D.A., Delorey, T., yu Li, B., White, T.C., Cuomo, C. and Rao, R.P., 2015. The evolution of drug resistance in clinical isolates of Candida albicans. elife, 4, p.e00662.

Rao, R.P., Hunter, A., Kashpur, O. and Normanly, J., 2010. Aberrant synthesis of indole-3-acetic acid in Saccharomyces cerevisiae triggers morphogenic transition, a virulence trait of pathogenic fungi. Genetics, 185(1), pp.211-220. (Featured in Faculty of 1000)

Prusty, R., Grisafi, P. and Fink, G.R., 2004. The plant hormone indoleacetic acid induces invasive growth in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(12), pp.4153-4157. (Featured in Faculty of 1000)

Defossez, P.A., Prusty, R., Kaeberlein, M., Lin, S.J., Ferrigno, P., Silver, P.A., Keil, R.L. and Guarente, L., 1999. Elimination of replication block protein Fob1 extends the life span of yeast mother cells. Molecular cell, 3(4), pp.447-455.

Professional Highlights & Honors
AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellow, 2022,

American Academy of Microbiology Fellow, 2018,

Waksman Outstanding Teaching Award, Society of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, 2018,

PLOS ONE, Associate Editor, 2016 – 2017,

NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research, 1999-2005,


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.