The University of Cambridge, home to the bioscience-heavy technology cluster known as Silicon Fen, beat both its US rivals in teaching, industry income and international outlook to come second overall.
MIT's dominance is long established but intriguing, given that as a technology-oriented institute it initially considered life sciences only from the perspective of engineering and public health.
Now the field makes up about 40 per cent of its research, with almost all departments hosting academics whose work involves biological subjects. Interdisciplinary science is a particular focus in its teaching and research.
MIT and Harvard are just two of the many American institutions in the table, with the US increasing its dominance. It has 24 representatives this year, up from 21 in 2011-12.
However, of all the subject tables life sciences is the most diverse. Fourteen nations are represented, up from 11 last year.
Brazil makes its first appearance in a subject table, with the University of Sao Paulo squeezing in at 50th place.
UK universities fared less well this year. Despite the predictable appearance of the Oxbridge pair, the total number of British institutions featured fell from nine to six, with the universities of Glasgow, Bristol and Sheffield exiting the ranking.
ETH Zurich-Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich was the top-ranked mainland European institute, followed by the Netherlands' Wageningen University and Research Center.