Biology

  • Degree Type Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Science
  • Department Biology
  • Academic Division The College
  • Offerings Animal Biology minor Ecology minor Molecular/Cell Biology minor Physiology minor Quantitative Biology minor

student working in a lab student working in a lab

The biological sciences play a key role in human society, from the conservation of biodiversity to medicine. The Department of Biology cultivates an exciting academic environment to study, research and contemplate the spectrum of life sciences.

Biology

Biology majors receive a broad education in the biosciences. The curriculum promotes effective scientific communication, the understanding and use of the scientific method, the understanding of the major concepts in biology, the use of the tools and techniques of science, an understanding of the scientific literature and the importance of quantitative techniques. Studying biology at W&L includes hands-on experience, including independent research experience and lab and/or fieldwork, often incorporating original research projects. Graduates are competitive for entry to graduate programs, medical and other professional programs, and employment in all sectors of research, development and commerce.

We believe in the value of a personal educational experience, achieved through small classes and laboratories and opportunities for independent study and research. Faculty embrace the teacher-scholar model and pursue varied research interests with student collaborators.

Student Research

As well as directed-individual study, directed-individual research and honors theses projects, students have the opportunity to work side by side with faculty in the Summer Research Scholars program. Many of our students travel nationally and internationally over the summer to participate in internships encompassing a variety of projects, or to present their research at national society meetings. Students can also take advantage of the Marine Science Educational Consortium with the Duke University Marine Biology Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina.

“After I conducted biology research at W&L the summer following my freshman year, I knew that I wanted to major in biology.”

Hannah Archer
Class of 2020

Bill Hamilton

Biology Department Head, Professor of Biology

Leigh Ann McCoy

Administrative Assistant

News


Saving the Sea Turtles

At the New England Aquarium, Julia Luzzio ’25 is expanding her horizons and gaining hands-on experience working with wildlife.

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W&L Outcomes: Pari Ahmadi ’24

Pari Ahmadi ’24 will be working as a clinical research coordinator at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute before attending medical school.

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Five W&L Students Awarded Gilman Scholarships to Study Abroad

The Gilman Scholarship Program offers awards of up to $5,000 to U.S. undergraduate students who are Pell Grant recipients.

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W&L’s Catherine McKean ’24 Selected For Fulbright to Germany

McKean has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to teach English in Germany.

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W&L Alumni and Student Awarded NSF Fellowships

Emma Aldrich ’22, Tanajia Moye-Green ’23 and Jules Seay ’24 have received pre-doctoral graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation to support their research.

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Alicia Reigel Published in the Journal Communications Biology

The first-year biology professor co-authored a paper titled “Sponge-derived matter is assimilated by coral holobionts.”

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W&L’s Reigel Published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series Journal

First-year biology professor co-authored a paper titled “Microbiome environmental shifts differ between two co-occurring octocoral hosts.”

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Lucy Worthy '24

W&L Student Co-Authors Paper Published by the Pain Medicine Journal

Lucy Worthy ’24 assisted in the research and helped publish the results alongside two W&L alumni.

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W&L Outcomes: Lauren Shelby ’23

Lauren Shelby ’23 will be pursuing her master’s degree at New York University.

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W&L Professor Receives Two-Year Grant from the USDA Forest Service to Perform Data Analysis and Modeling on Water Quality

Robert Humston will assess over 30 years of data collected by the U.S. Forest Service within the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests.

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Students work on an ecological model.

A Model of Possibility

Professor of Biology Robert Humston’s Spring Term course takes a deep dive into environmental problem-solving.

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Nadia Ayoub and Kyle Friend

W&L Professors and Students Co-Author Peer-Reviewed Paper on Web-Weaving Spiders

Professors Nadia Ayoub and Kyle Friend, and students Jamal Magoti ’23, Maria Luzaran ’23, Cooper Lazo ’24 and Eman Muamar ’24 all contributed to the paper that appeared in the open science platform Frontiers.

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Sample Courses

At W&L, we believe education and experience go hand-in-hand. You’ll be encouraged to dive in, explore and discover connections that will broaden your perspective.

BIOL 150

Genetic Engineering & Society

In this course, we explore the nuts and bolts of genetic engineering and a small sampling of its applications, including developing drugs and vaccinations, enhancing crops, testing for genetic diseases, and genetic testing in the courtroom. These applications introduce ethical considerations for us to debate. In addition, we use molecular-biology tools to carry out our own genetic engineering projects with spider silk genes, which have potential for multiple medical and industrial applications.

BIOL 250

Vertebrate Endocrinology

This course provides an introduction to the scientific study of the endocrine system, including exploration of chemoregulatory mechanisms in vertebrates and examination of biochemical, cellular and physiological aspects of hormone action. In-class exercises focus on developing written and verbal scientific communication skills, as well as in-depth analysis of primary literature.

BIOL 241

Field Ornithology

This course integrates studies of bird biology with field observation and identification of local bird species. Topics covered include anatomy, taxonomy, reproduction, vocalization, migration, ecology and evolution. Field trips to a variety of areas throughout Virginia emphasize identification skills and basic field research techniques.

BIOL 160

CSI: W&L

This laboratory course is an introduction to the field of forensic science with a focus on the physical, chemical and biological basis of crime scene evidence. A particular emphasis is on the analysis of trace physical (e.g., glass, soil, fiber, ballistics) and biological (e.g., hair, blood, DNA) evidence and forensic toxicology (e.g., drugs, alcohol, poisons).

BIOL 111

Yellowstone Ecology

An intensive investigation of scientific thought and communication, examined in the context of major concepts such as ecology, physiology, population dynamics and biochemistry. From cells to satellite data and bacteria and bears, this course investigates multiple biological levels of organization using the world's first national park as a case study.

BIOL 310

Microbiology

A broadly based course in the study of microorganisms, specifically prokaryotic cells, microbial diversity and the effects of microbes in the world, in society and in the bodies of animals and plants. It concerns the central role of microbiology as a basic biological science that enhances our understanding of the biology of higher organisms.

Meet the Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.

Bill Hamilton
Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton

Biology Department Head and Professor of Biology

Hamilton teaches courses in biology and environmental studies, such as Yellowstone Ecology and Experimental Botany. His research pertains to ecosystem dynamics with a focus on animal-plant-soil interactions in Yellowstone National Park.

Nadia Ayoub
Nadia Ayoub

Nadia Ayoub

Associate Professor of Biology

Ayoub teaches Evolution, Genetics, Genomics, Foundations of Modern Biology and Genetic Engineering and Society. Her research focuses on how diversity at the molecular level translates into diversity at the organismal level. Current projects include describing the entire suite of genes needed for silk synthesis in the black widow spider and closely related cobweb weavers and developing phylogenetic markers for spider systematics.

Sarah Blythe
Sarah Blythe

Sarah Blythe

Associate Professor of Biology; Neuroscience Program Head

Professor Blythe teaches Addiction and Drugs of Abuse, Vertebrate Endocrinology, Anatomy and Physiology, Food for Thought and Experimental Neurophysiology. Her research explores the physiological and neurobiological effects of obesity. Current projects in her laboratory involve diet-induced cognitive impairments, the gut-brain connection (microbiome), and time-restricted feeding paradigms.

Paul Cabe
Paul Cabe

Paul Cabe

Professor of Biology

Professor Cabe teaches a number of genetics courses, as well as ornithology. His research interests focus on using modern molecular methods to collect data useful in answering questions in the areas of population genetics and evolutionary biology. He is also interested in ornithology, ecology and conservation biology.

Curriculum Vitae

Robert Humston
Robert Humston

Robert Humston

John Kyle Spencer Director for Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology

Humston teaches Introduction to Environmental Studies, Aquatic Ecology and Ecological Modeling, among other courses. He has researched fisheries management, fish ecology and dispersal/movement behavior of animals and plants.

Curriculum Vitae

Lawrence E. Hurd
Lawrence E. Hurd

Lawrence E. Hurd

Herwick Professor of Biology

Hurd teaches zoology, ecology and biodiversity conservation. His research is on tropical biodiversity and entomology.

Curriculum Vitae

Helen I’Anson
Helen I’Anson

Helen I’Anson

AIM Program Co-Director, John T. Perry Professor of Biology and Research Science

Professor I'Anson teaches courses in fundamentals of biology, animal physiology, microanatomy, reproductive physiology and neuroendocrinology. She also supervises W&L students in the Biology Department’s St. Andrews-W&L Partnership Program. She is currently researching the neurobiology of puberty.

Leah Lanier
Leah Lanier

Leah Lanier

Adjunct Laboratory Instructor of Biology

David Marsh
David Marsh

David Marsh

Professor of Biology

Marsh teaches Intro to Behavioral Ecology, Microbiome, Field Herpetology, Animal Behavior and Statistics for Biology and Medicine. His research includes effects of climate change on endemic mountaintop salamanders, effects of roads and land use on frog and toad populations across the Eastern and central U.S., and population dynamics of terrestrial salamanders.

Curriculum Vitae

Alicia Reigel
Alicia Reigel

Alicia Reigel

Assistant Professor of Biology

Natalia Toporikova
Natalia Toporikova

Natalia Toporikova

Associate Professor of Biology

Professor Toporikova’s courses include Biological Clocks and Rhythms, The Architecture of Living Systems, Dynamics of Biological Systems and Pregnancy: A Kiss in Time? In her research, she applies methods of computational modeling to study a wide range of biological systems. Some recent projects include neural control of breathing, pregnancy initiation in rats, and daily circadian cycle.

Fiona Watson
Fiona Watson

Fiona Watson

Associate Professor of Biology

Professor Watson’s courses include Cell Biology, Animal Development, Neural Imaging and CSI: W&L. Her overall research interests encompass two main areas of investigation: 1) the recovery of optic nerve axons of adult Xenopus using a nerve crush injury model, and 2) the effects of pesticide exposure on the neurogenesis of sensory neurons.

Gregg Whitworth
Gregg Whitworth

Gregg Whitworth

Associate Professor of Biology

Whitworth’s courses include Data Science: Visualizing and Exploring Big Data and The Molecular Mechanics of Life.

Charles Winder
Charles Winder

Charles Winder

Laboratory Instructor

Winder holds a bachelor\'s degree in biology from the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and a master\'s in botany from the University of Tennessee

Nadia Ayoub
Sarah Blythe
Paul Cabe
Robert Humston
Lawrence E. Hurd
Helen I’Anson
Leah Lanier
David Marsh
Alicia Reigel
Natalia Toporikova
Fiona Watson
Gregg Whitworth
Charles Winder
Bill Hamilton

More to Explore

At W&L, biology majors have access to unparalleled resources and opportunities.

Research

Duke Marine Lab Consortium

Washington and Lee is a member of the Duke Marine Lab consortium, allowing our students to study Marine Biology at the lab either fall or winter semester during the academic year. Credits from Duke Marine Lab biology courses can be counted towards the W&L Biology major, and credits from Marine Lab environmental studies courses will usually transfer as W&L environmental studies courses. In general, W&L financial aid can be applied directly towards Duke Marine Lab tuition.

Study Abroad

St. Andrews Program

Washington and Lee University and the University of St. Andrews have joined in a partnership, providing a quality study abroad experience for students in the sciences and students interested in the health professions. As part of this program, participating students may enroll for specific science classes which will receive credit and a grade on a W&L transcript; additionally, premed students may elect to take part in a special premedical seminar, which includes site visits to area hospitals and clinics, offered by a member of the St. Andrews Medical faculty.

Graduate School

Health Professions Program

Competition for acceptance to health professional graduate schools is fierce, so take every opportunity to enhance your chances. We provide the best advice and information available to help you make choices during your undergraduate career.

Honors

Biological Honor Society

Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta) is a society for students, particularly undergraduates, dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological study and extending boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research.