About the PI

  • Will Ratcliff

William C. Ratcliff

1999-2004       B.Sc. in Plant Biology @UC Davis
2005-2010       Ph.D. in Ecology Evolution and Behavior with R. Ford Denison @University of Minnesota
2010-2013       Postdoc with Mike Travisano @University of Minnesota
2014-2019       Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences @Georgia Tech
2019 >             Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences @Georgia Tech
2021-present   Director, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences (QBioS)


I am an evolutionary biologist broadly interested in the evolution of complex life. My Ph.D. training focused on the evolutionary stability of cooperation in the legume-rhizorium symbiosis. Here I developed new experimental methods to study how among-organism genetic conflict arises and can be mitigated. A similar evolutionary tension lies at the heart of all key events in the origin of complex life, termed the ‘Major Transitions in Evolution’: namely, how do new organisms arise and evolve to be more complex without succumbing to within-organism conflict? Studying the early evolution of multicellular organisms has been particularly difficult because these transitions occurred deep in the past, and transitional forms have largely lost to extinction. As a postdoc, I circumvented this constraint by creating a new approach to study the evolution of multicellularity: we evolved it de novo. Since founding my own research group at Georgia Tech in 2014, I have combined this approach with mathematical modeling and synthetic biology to examine how simple clumps of cells evolve into multicellular organisms. Our research has shown how classical constraints in the origin of multicellularity –e.g., the origin of life cycles, multicellular development, cellular differentiation, and cellular interdependence– can be solved by Darwinian evolution. At home, I raise two kids on a hobby farm (really just a big garden) with bees, chickens, rabbits, goats, a dog, and lots of edible plants.

Selected Honors and Awards

2023     IBB Over and Above Award

2022     Leddy Family Dean’s Excellence Award

2020, 2022     Student Recognition of Excellence in Teaching: CIOS Honor Roll

2019     NSF CAREER Award
2019     Sigma Xi (GT chapter) Best Paper Award (joint with Peter Yunker)
2018     Sigma Xi (GT chapter) Young Faculty Award
2018     Class of 1940 Course Survey Teaching Effectiveness Award
2018     Visiting Professor at École Normale Supérieure, Paris (Mathematical Biology)
2016     Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering
2016     Named one of the ‘Brilliant 10’ of 2016 by Popular Science
2013     T. H. Huxley Award for Scientific Outreach
2011     Hamilton Award for best student talk at the 2011 Evolution meeting
2008     NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant
2006     NSF Graduate Research Fellowship