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Alexa Z

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley)


Drug discovery, microbial interactions, environmental microbiology, genome mining, bioengineering


I'm passionate about the interface of biology and chemistry and how we can utilize microbes to better the world. Bacteria are incredible organisms capable of producing life-saving drugs. In my past work I've gone to the depths of dark caves to isolate new bacteria and test them for their drug-making abilities. Bacteria are also adept at cleaning up waste. Focusing on the bio-recycling of electronic waste, I currently study how a group of pink bacteria can eat our ground up iPhones! I moved to California for grad school, so in my spare time I love to marvel at the ocean and explore the incredible nature that this state has to offer. After a long day in lab you'll find me cuddling up to my cat, Curie, and reading a book. I also love to play board games with my friends, but I hate listening to the rules.

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.

Bacterial Fight Club: Harnessing Microbial Interactions for Drug Discovery

Have you ever wondered where the medicines we take come from? Over 60% of clinical drugs come from a biological source such as bacteria. In the environment, bacteria are constantly competing with each other and secrete small molecules that kill their neighbors. These small molecules are then discovered by scientists like us and are used as anti-cancer or antibacterial drugs. In this project you'll dive into understanding bacterial warfare and the process that goes into drug discovery--from the environment, to the laboratory, and to the hospital. This project can culminate in a review article or oral presentation that could be submitted to a journal or conference.

Rock 'n Roll Recycling: How Bacteria Can Give Metals in E-Waste A New Life

Every year people throw away old laptops and phones and replace them with newer, shinier models. As technology develops faster and faster, the amount of electronic waste that we produce keeps growing--as of right now, the world produces 52 million tons of it per year! Luckily, we can turn to bacteria to help us recycle all this waste. In this project you'll learn how bacteria can consume toxic metals and how we can engineer them to binge on waste at an industrial scale. Within this project, a citizen science approach could be taken where you could isolate your very own metal-munching bacteria. This project can also culminate in a review article or oral presentation that could be submitted to a journal or conference.

Teaching experience

I have extensive experience mentoring students of all education levels. Previously I have tutored undergraduate and high school students in biology and chemistry and I have worked with a nonprofit organization to guide students through the graduate school application process. Currently I work with high school students through an outreach project cofounded by my research group. In this program we lead students through a multi-week project focusing on isolating and identifying bacteria from the local environment.


Work experience

Vanderbilt University (2019 - 2020)
Research Assistant
Aegis Sciences Corporation (2018 - 2018)
Instrument Reliability Intern
The Scripps Research Institute (2017 - 2017)
NSF REU Student


Vanderbilt University
BA Bachelor of Arts (2019)
Biochemistry & Chemical Biology
University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate

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