Kaye Peterman

Susan M. Hallowell and Ruby Frances Howe Farwell Professor of Biological Sciences

Plant cell biologist who uses molecular genetics, biochemistry and confocal microscopy to study how plant cells grow and divide.

I am interested in how plant cells, encased in a rigid cellulose “box”, manage to grow and divide. I am particularly intrigued by the molecular underpinnings of these essential processes, and especially the role of membrane lipid-derived signals that interface with the cytoskeleton. Most recently my work has focused on plant proteins of the Sec14 superfamily that are involved in cytokinesis and cell expansion. In my lab we employ two model plant organisms, the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana and more recently the moss, Physcomitrella patens. Both of these organisms have fully sequenced genomes and are readily amenable to genetic manipulation. These features allow us to create mutations in specific genes and then examine their involvement in cytokinesis and cell expansion. We also engineer plants to express fluorescently tagged proteins that can be imaged using the confocal microscope. This approach allows us to examine the dynamics of specific proteins and lipids in live cells as they grow and divide. Wellesley students are true collaborators in this research and are involved in all aspects of the scientific process, from designing and performing experiments to presenting our work at conferences and writing scientific publications.

My teaching interests stem from my fascination with the cellular and molecular basis of life and my passion for the botanical world. At the introductory level I teach in our cellular and molecular biology courses. I also teach an intermediate course in plant biology that explores how plants develop, function and adapt to their ever-changing environment. For advanced students I offer a seminar in plant biotechnology that examines the use of recombinant DNA technology to address some of the most pressing agricultural, environmental and health-related problems of our day. I have also co-taught a seminar for newly declared biological chemistry majors that introduces them to research and professional opportunities in the field. In all of my teaching I take great pleasure in sharing my enthusiasm for the intricacies of the living world and in helping students develop the analytical thinking, writing and speaking skills they need to succeed.

When not in the lab or the classroom I enjoy spending time with my husband John (also a biologist), our two sons, Zack (Colby ’13) and Aaron (Oberlin ’15), and our two rescued Brittany’s, Luigi and Ruby. Out of doors is my favorite place to be with kayaking and walking my current favorite activities. I am obsessed with all things food, especially cooking and gardening. I love to travel, especially to places with warm beaches, lush landscapes and good food.



  • B.S., Texas A & M University
  • Ph.D., Duke University