Mary Beth Saffo is a research associate at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and adjunct scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. Although her experimental focus is on marine organisms (especially molgulid tunicates, or “sea squirts”), her interests embrace the cellular biology, ecology, and evolution of plants, animals, and microorganisms in many ecosystems. Her research has spanned kidney stone disease, nitrogen excretion, microbial evolution, seaweed zonation, the biology of symbiosis, and comparisons of interspecific symbiotic associations with the intra-specific complexities of human relationships. Her forthcoming book from the University of Chicago Press examines the evolution of symbiotic interactions, comparing the functional and evolutionary dynamics of pathogenic and parasitic symbioses with mutually beneficial ones.
While at Radcliffe, Saffo will extend her work to genomics, using DNA sequences to probe the evolutionary relationships of the peculiar microbial symbionts that inhabit molgulid tunicates and to trace the coevolutionary history between these microbes and their tunicate hosts.
After receiving her BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and PhD from Stanford University, Saffo was a Miller research fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. She has been a Woodrow Wilson fellow, an American Association of University Women fellow, and a resident scholar at the Rockefeller center in Bellagio, Italy. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the US Department of Agriculture, and private foundations have supported her research. Saffo is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.