When I first arrived at Brown, I was part of Brown’s third cohort of a National Science Foundation’s Integrate Graduate Education Research Traineeship (NSF-IGERT). Our project followed the grant’s theme of reverse ecology, looking at mind-controlling host-parasite interaction between an amphipod (Orchestia grillus) and a trematode (Levinseniella byrdii). We assembled de novo genomes for each organism, which are currently in review with the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), and performed transcriptomics on infected and uninfected amphipods from a nitrogen rich vs. a control system. We identified significant suppression of immune-response and oxidative phosphorylation complexes. We are aiming to submit this work to American Naturalist in summer 2020.

I study the complex genetics underlying exercise and athletic performance, asking the question: How does genotype influence phenotype? My dissertation focuses on the genetic factors influencing athletic performance and insect locomotion.

One of my early chapters investigated how mito-nuclear genetics (interactions between mitochondrial and nuclear genomes) affect exercise performance in a longitudinal study with Drosophila. This study looked at different mitochondrial-nuclear DNA, genetic backgrounds and sought associations between genetic background, ability to exercise train and perform after training, and biomarkers of exercise training. This study was conducted in collaboration with the Wessell’s lab at Wayne State University and is available online. [Mitochondrion]

Another chapter used a Raspberry Pi (micro-computer) and PiCamera to record videos of flies climbing and quantify group climbing metrics in a genetic screen or longitudinal study. This project is being applied in collaboration with the Wharton lab at Brown University to study a novel model of ALS and a promising genetic rescue, and is nearly finalized for distribution.

My more recent projects identify the complex genetics underlying flight performance and individual variation in flight performance. Looking at a combination of additive, epistatic (genes talking to other genes), whole genes, and gene-gene interaction networks, I was able to identify various features of the genetic architecture underlying flight performance. These genetic markers generally associated with regulatory regions in neurodevelopment genes and genes regulating other genes. This work helps us understand the genetics of insect flight, as well as generating hypotheses about various genes involved in neurological contexts in humans. A copy of the peer-reviewed manuscript will be posted when available.

With a defense date set for April 2020 and a graduation in May, I am planning to transition my knowledge, technical and soft skills into the Boston biotech space. Ideally, I will be working in the field of health data science or personalized/genomic medicine, leveraging individuals’ genetic and other high throughput “-omics” data to provide insights into disease management and treatment.