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

  • In this course, we will explore animal development beginning with the process of fertilization. We will consider how a single cell gives rise to the many specialized cell types of the adult and how the development of tissues is coordinated. The mechanisms that determine cell fate during embryonic development will be discussed. Topics will include: embryonic induction, pattern formation, organ development, regeneration, stem cells, and aging. Laboratory sessions will focus on experimental approaches to development. This course does not have a waitlist, we know enrollments shift and spaces open up, so check back regularly for spots.
  • Tropical forests and coral reefs are among the most fascinating and diverse ecosystems, but unfortunately face an ever increasing number of threats. In this discussion based class, students present and analyze papers that illustrate how these ecosystems function, why they are struggling and what can be done to prevent further decline and to hopefully restore them. We will pay attention to the observational, experimental and analytical approaches that are used in this field of study. The week-long laboratory part takes place at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in Little Cayman in mid-May. Students will have the opportunity to carry out their own research projects that they designed during the semester. To receive more information including the application form, please reach out to Prof. Königer. Applications are due Oct. 24th.

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.

  • Close-up of green cells known as Prochlorococcus.

    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.

  • Professor Sequeira and a student examine shallow catch basins for weevils on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.

    Professor Andrea Sequeira conducts research on weevil adaptation and survival. From 2015 to 2020, Sequeira, Professor Martina Königer, Ava Mackay-Smith ’20, Mary Kate Dornon ’17, Rosalind Lucier ’22, Anna Okimoto ’19, and laboratory specialist Flavia Mendonca de Sousa collected samples of Naupactus cervinus and N. leucoloma from Florida, California, and Argentina. With colleagues at the University of Buenos Aires, the team analyzed patterns of gene expression in the weevils. Their findings were 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