Sonia Singhal, Ph.D.
University of Washington
Christina Burch, Ph.D.
I became involved in research early in my academic career. During high school science fairs, I found that the structure of the scientific method empowered me to ask and answer my own questions about the world. As an undergraduate at Yale University, I did summer internships in molecular biology and ecology labs and joined Dr. Paul Turner’s virus evolution lab for my undergraduate thesis. The research in the Turner lab particularly fascinated me. The rapid rate at which viruses changed meant that I could watch them evolve, before my eyes, in only a few days or weeks. I also became interested in the number of different evolutionary and medical topics that I could study using viruses, including drug resistance, how parasites infect new hosts, the effects of mutations, and the origins of sexual reproduction.
My work in the Turner lab convinced me that I wanted to use microbes to study evolutionary principles. After completing my undergraduate degree, I spent a year in Montpellier, France, studying genetic variation in a plant virus as part of a Fulbright scholarship. I then moved to Seattle for a Ph.D. with Dr. Ben Kerr at the University of Washington. I addressed questions such as how migration or the rate of environmental change can affect microbial evolution; how altruism evolves; how highly specific toxin-antitoxin protein pairs diversify; and how we can engineer bacteria to control their growth.
Communicating science in ways that make the concepts accessible to non-experts has always been important to me, and I see teaching as a natural extension of this work. As a graduate student, I brought eight undergraduates into the Kerr lab to work alongside me on original research projects. Many of the students had no prior laboratory experience, but they went on to pursue further work in research, graduate school, and medical school. Outside the laboratory, I gave public talks on bacterial evolution through Engage-Sciences and the UW Research Commons Scholars’ Studio. As a Science Communication Fellow with the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, I also developed hands-on activities and tours to teach visitors to the museum about evolution.
I am excited to continue growing both my science and my teaching as a SPIRE scholar. I will be working with Dr. Christina Burch to understand how mutations affect viral performance. I also look forward to expanding my science communication work into a teaching environment, and learning how I can best serve students from diverse backgrounds in the classroom.
Studies in the Natural Sciences – Johnson C. Smith University
Special topics: Phage Investigations – Johnson C. Smith University
Singhal S, Gomez SM, Burch CL. 2019. Recombination drives the evolution of mutational robustness. Curr Opin Syst Biol. 142-149. PMC6768415
Singhal S. Digest: Unpacking fitness effects of spontaneous mutations.. Evolution; international journal of organic evolution. 2017 Dec;71(12):2954-2955