Biological Sciences

Academic Department Introduction

Biology, the study of life, is a dynamic science that connects with many other disciplines. Biologists examine life at all levels, from molecular interactions to communities of plants and animals facing global climate change. Biological sciences majors develop the problem-solving skills and intellectual flexibility to contribute to and participate in a rapidly changing world.

Most courses include a laboratory or field-based component where students can design and perform their own experiments. We believe the best science learning is achieved when paired with hands-on experience.

Learning goals

  • Articulate the evolutionary basis of biology and the dynamic nature of life.
  • Identify, discuss, and explain the fundamental principles and concepts of biology.
  • Evaluate ethical and public policy issues of biological significance.
  • Summarize and assess new biological problems and use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to arrive at defensible conclusions.
  • Frame focused biological questions, then formulate and test hypotheses through experiments.

Programs of Study

Biological sciences major and minor

Students understand the relevance of biology in their lives and the lives of others.

Course Highlights

  • The availability of next generation sequencing in the last 10-15 years has revolutionized the field of environmental microbiology. Although most of the microbial world remains to be discovered and explored, we are now starting to find answers to some central ecological questions such as: What microbes are present in various ecosystems? What is the distribution of each type of organism? What are their roles (functions)? How does each role relate to the magnitude of microbial activity? What factors influence microbial activity and interactions? We will explore the questions in the context of the human and cheese microbiomes. The topics will include microbial diversity, microbial evolution, phylogeny, physiology, metabolism, community ecology, genomics, metagenomics and proteomics. Through reading of original papers on the human microbiome, we will examine recent advances made in microbial ecology and critically analyze the role of microorganisms on human health and beyond. Students will have the opportunity to design and conduct an independent research project to explore the cheese microbiome.
  • A foundation course that focuses on the study of life at the cellular and molecular level, including eukaryotic and prokaryotic cell structure, function of biological macromolecules, molecular genetics, cellular metabolism, and key topics in cell biology. This course will provide the fundamental tools for exploration of cellular and molecular biology with the aim of enhancing conceptual understanding. Laboratories focus on experimental approaches to these topics. This course is intended for students who, because of their previous biology, chemistry or math preparation, would benefit from additional academic support for the study of introductory biology, or who do not meet the prerequisites to enroll in BISC 110. Includes two additional class meetings per week. Students in BISC 110P must enroll in BISC 110P lab. Students must attend lab during the first week in order to continue in the course.

Research highlights

  • Five students wearing gloves smile at the camera. They are in a chemistry lab.

    Professor Vanja Klepac-Ceraj researches microbial communities, which have a crucial influence the health of their environment, whether a lake or human body. In the Klepac-Ceraj lab, Annelle Abatoni Kayisire ’23 and Anika Luo ’23 co-authored a paper about working with microbial community data, Cassie Potter ’23 is a co-author on a paper about the role of bacteria in the development of atopic dermatitis/eczema, and Caroline MacVicar ’23 is a co-author on a paper about microclimates in soil in the Galápagos archipelago.

  • A student measures powder into a jar.

    Professor Steven Biller uses model systems to decipher the genetic and cellular mechanisms through which individual cells interact with other organisms and their environment. How do these interactions contribute to community behaviors? Biller focuses on oceans and the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus—the smallest and most abundant photosynthetic organism on the planet. Students in the Biller lab explore aspects of this microbe through a combination of laboratory, computational, and field studies.

  • Gabriella Karcz ’25 collects weevils from a tree in Galápagos.

    Professor Andrea Sequeira researches weevil adaptation and survival. In 2024, she and Gabriella Karcz ’25 collected weevils in Galápagos. From 2015 to 2020, Sequeira, Professor Martina Königer, lab specialist Flavia Mendonca de Sousa, and students collected samples of Naupactus cervinus and N. leucoloma in Florida, California, and Argentina. With University of Buenos Aires colleagues, the team analyzed patterns of gene expression, with findings published in PLOS ONE

Opportunities and community

Dedicated to equity, engagement, and belonging, we offer many concrete opportunities for all students, including those new to biology, to join us as valued and respected members of our department.

  • Biology and Biochemistry Club (BC)²

    A supportive forum for biology and biochemistry students to network with each other, (BC)2 sponsors on- and off-campus field trips, lectures, and career panels.

  • Biochemistry Boot Camp

    Open to first-years and sophomores during Wintersession, this program provides an experiential introduction to laboratory research, taking a low-pressure approach that supports students with no scientific background.

  • Research mentorship and funding

    We offer exceptional support for student research. Whether they are first-years new to lab work or seniors working on a thesis, students can access abundant financial and academic assistance. Our faculty advise students on research assistant positions as well as programs and initiatives, at Wellesley and beyond.

  • Peer support

    Students support each other through peer-to-peer mentoring and the Bio Cafe. Through supplemental instruction and laboratory teaching assistant positions, students enrich their education and build community.

  • Commitment to inclusion

    Our department features a Belonging Committee that plans events and initiatives to foster diversity, access, and equity within our community. Our professors support and work with biology students who develop programs and practices that enhance inclusion.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Many biological sciences grads pursue careers in health care and higher education, conducting research and/or lab work.

Alumni Highlights

  • Meagan Lizarazo ’04

    is executive vice president and chief operating officer of iGem (International Genetically Engineered Machine), a synthetic biology nonprofit. After Wellesley, Lizarazo joined an MIT lab developing a system for synthetic biology research. Lizarazo helped grow the lab’s original Wintersession contest for undergraduates into an international competition with hundreds of annual participants and several significant breakthroughs.

  • Kwan Kew Lai ’74

    is an infectious disease doctor who has treated patients with Ebola in Liberia, mentored and trained HIV/AIDS clinicians in Vietnam, Malawi, and Uganda, and provided relief services after the earthquake and during the cholera outbreak in Haiti, among many other volunteer projects.

Department of Biological Sciences

Science Center
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Heather Mattila
Department Chair
Mary Helen McCollister, Sarah Schwartz
Academic Administrators