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Miwa W

- Research Program Mentor

PhD at Cornell University

Expertise

Bioethics, genetics, genomics, gene editing, evolution, population genetics

Bio

I am a PhD candidate in genetics with research roots in ecology and environment science. I love exploring the interconnectedness of the world, both biological and philosophical, and believe approaching questions through different lenses makes for fascinating answers and incredible stories. I grew up in the lower Hudson Valley of New York where I had two irreplaceable high school teachers, inspiring me to be an educator. There, I was lucky to be able to jump start my research journey and compete in science fairs across the country. I then graduated from Haverford College where I rounded out my liberal arts education with time enjoying the outdoors working at the college arboretum and playing varsity softball. My time culminated in two theses involving research on a developmental gene in the C. elegans model organism and research on Aristotle's ideas of teleology. I have since settled at Cornell where I am growing my passion for education and outreach. Here, I am researching the evolution of fruit fly genes through its interaction with an intracellular bacterium.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

The genomics revolution

There has been a recent revolution in personal genomics- for less than a hundred bucks, anyone can get their genome sequenced. What does this mean for an individual and for society? This project will dissect the different implications of widespread sequencing of human genomes. You will learn how DNA is sequenced, how scientists associate genes and traits, and how medical professionals and privacy specialists are considering this data. Communicating these findings to the public in an easily accessible manner will be incredibly valuable as we all try and navigate this newly emerging world. This can be done through a blog, podcast, or series of infographics.

An era of gene editing

The 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry was awarded to two scientists who pioneered the CRISPR gene editing system. CRISPR allows us to make precise edits in a genome, arming researchers with a shiny tool and hopes of making a world with less disease and better crops. With this project, you will choose a question or problem that you think could be addressed using gene editing with CRISPR. After learning how CRISPR works on a technical level, you can design an experiment to edit a gene of interest. The last phase of this project has you consider the broader consequences of gene editing. You can share your insights in an educational video, infographic, or other mediums.

Evolution of a gene

Why do some genes evolve rapidly and others not change for millions of years? In this project, you will first gain an understanding of population genetics and how genes evolve. Then, you will conduct firsthand research by choosing a few genes in the fruit fly model organism Drosophila melanogaster and discovering if your genes are evolving rapidly or are under constraint. Based on your genes’ functions, would you hypothesize that their evolutionary trajectory is the former or the latter? You will write up your findings in a research paper.

Coding skills

python, R

Languages I know

conversational Spanish; rudimentary Japanese

Teaching experience

I am currently TAing an exciting class on personal genomics and have previously led a biology lab class for Cornell undergraduates. Over the past few years, I have tutored several students ranging from elementary- to college-aged, both in-person and virtually. In my spare time, I enjoy volunteering with education outreach groups to bring STEM concepts to the local community. I also coach high school science research students and am a judge at regional high school science fairs.

Credentials

Education

Haverford College
BS Bachelor of Science (2016)
Biology and Philosophy
Cornell University
PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Genetics, Genomics, and Development

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