Life Sciences and Biotechnology

  • Duration: 3 years
  • Admission: academic qualifications and interview
  • Contact persons: Prof. Luca Ferraro
  • Head office: University of Ferrara, Italy
  • Managing Department: Life Sciences and Biotechnology
  • Study abroad: Mandatory (at least 3 months)

Educational purpose: the PhD program in Life Sciences and Biotechnology is committed to educating scholars who will lead highly qualified experts in a broad field of animal and plant life sciences. The educational goal of the PhD program is to provide the necessary expertise to conduct highly qualified basic and/or applied research in the field of basic biological processes; biodiversity; animal behavior and evolution; molecular and cellular biochemistry and functional biology, biotechnologies applied to many research areas, including pre-clinical research. The training project is mainly characterized by structured activities and widely interdisciplinary research projects and is designed with the aim of promoting independent thinking, critical evaluation, personal responsibility and fostering interactions and exchanges of knowledge between rapidly growing research areas such as life sciences, biomedical sciences and applied biotechnologies. The multidisciplinary teaching program (genetics, molecular and evolutionary biology, biotechnologies applied to the development of pharmaceutics, wellness products, agriculture, , environmental protection) will allow the acquirement of a high degree of flexibility to ensure a profitable integration into different work contexts (University; Public or private research centers; Natural History Parks and Museums; Biomedical industries, Agro-based industries, and companies producing technical support for these activities).



• Genetics and Evolution

• Molecular and Cellular Biology

• Biotechnologies


Educational Plan:

PhD students will work closely with their tutors and attend lectures, demonstrations  and seminars at the departments involved, as well as outside of them. Classes and workshops will be conducted by members of the Academic Board, by experts of qualified national and international institutions. Each student will participate in the drafting and implementation of a research project under the supervision of one or more members of the Board of teachers. Since the first year, students are encouraged to improve their knowledge by attending lessons relevant to their area of research. Attendance at lectures, seminars and demonstrations will be planned together with the tutor depending on the cultural background and interests of the student, and the research project chosen. The training program, in addition to the specific research field, includes common courses to the three curricula (mainly focused on basic research aspects), specific courses according to the chosen curriculum (mainly focused on specific research topics), seminars, conferences, workshops on specific research areas. The acquisition of complementary skills is also planned, such as advanced use of the English language, competence to present results and to prepare papers and funding applications, ability to enhance career opportunities.

All PhD students are required to submit a written report at the end of each year and to hold a public discussion of research results at the presence of the Doctoral School Committee and the other PhD students. The preparation of the final PhD thesis will be followed by the Doctoral School Committee that will take advantage of an independent panel of scientist for the review. All PhD students are strongly encouraged to publish their research results in the best and most authoritative international scientific journals.


Research topics:

Curriculum: Genetics and Evolution

Evolutionary genetics; Genetic epidemiology; Population genetics; Ancient DNA; Biostatistics; Bioinformatics; De novo reconstruction of prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes; Bioinformatic methods for the analysis of complete genomes; Analysis of genomic diversity applied to species conservation; Ethology of fish; amphibians, mammals and some invertebrates; Genetic mechanisms of behavior and its evolution, including the characterization of zebrafish mutants; Circadian rhythms and evolution of the circadian clock in vertebrates: from genes to behavior; Extraretinal photoreception in fish; Behavioral and cognitive ecology: the adaptive value of animal behavior and cognition; Interspecific variability, ontogenesis and phenotypic plasticity of behavior and cognitive abilities; Animal welfare in aquaculture; Ecotoxicology of aquatic species: impacts of pollutants (e.g. microplastics, parabens) on behavior; Parasitology of fish; Histopathology and immunology of parasitic fish; Neuroendocrine and immunological cells of the alimentary canal of fish.


Curriculum: Molecular and Cellular Biology

Characterization of the transcriptional, post-transcriptional and translational mechanisms underlying gene expression modulation; Protein structure and function relationships; Functional characterization of gene variants associated with human pathology; Development of innovative non-viral delivery of nucleic acids; Functional gene polymorphisms and pharmacokinetics; Coagulation factors, apolipoproteins and cardiovascular risk; Supplementation of fatty acids in cardiovascular diseases; Molecular basis of alterations in hemostasis and thrombophilia; Role of proline metabolism in the response of the plant to drought and pathogens; Purification and characterization of amino acid biosynthesis key enzymes in plants and microorganisms; Identification and study of herbicides with low environmental impact; Development of new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of beta-thalassemia; Analysis of the signaling pathway and of the secretomic profile in Shwachman-Diamond syndrome and cystic fibrosis; New therapeutic approaches for the treatment of cystic fibrosis; Non-invasive prenatal diagnosis of point mutations responsible for genetic diseases using advanced technologies; Screening of potential molecules of natural or synthetic origin with erythro-differentiating activity for the treatment of hemoglobinopathies using cellular biosensors.


Curriculum: Biotechnology

Development of "splicing-switching molecules" and their biotechnological applications; DNA and RNA base editing and their applications to genetic diseases; Study of the "Ribosome readthrough" mechanism and its modulation; Protein engineering applied to coagulation factors; Role of receptor heteromers in neurodegenerative and psychiatric pathologies; Study of the effects of prenatal cannabinoid exposure on the CNS, Role of the kynurenine pathway in schizophrenia; Targeting the microRNA/transcription factor network with a PNA-based approach against SARS-CoV-2; Genome Editing by means of CRISPR/Cas9 and other systems for the correction of mutations involved in genetic pathologies (beta-thalassemia, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome, cystic fibrosis); Read-through strategy for the treatment of genetic diseases caused by nonsense mutations. Phytochemistry and bioactivity of medicinal plants and fungi, Natural molecules for the sustainable defense of cultivated plants, Enhancement of by-products for health applications. MicroRNAs and cancer therapy; Preclinical models, application of the 3R principle and alternative methods to animal testing; Characterization of the human and murine microbiome; New methodologies, including NGS technologies, for the identification and monitoring of pathogens in biological and environmental samples.