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Student Highlights: Elizabeth Graham (NHS '23)

Elizabeth Graham is a sophomore in the NHS majoring in Human Science and on the pre-med track 


From a simple  high school class learning the basics of genetics, Graham became intrigued by the idea that so much about a person comes from sequences of nucleotides, and since then her main goal has been to work in the field of genetics. Through a Research Theory class she took during her first semester, she was introduced to research that the current Human Science Department faculty were conducting. When Dr. LaRocque, a faculty member in the NHS, introduced her research in the field of genetics, she was immediately drawn to the topic and reached out, and by the start of her second semester, she became involved with the LaRocque lab. The lab she is currently working on studies DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), which are particularly deleterious lesions implicated in tumorigenesis and certain genetic diseases. Primarily, the lab focuses on how these DSBs repair themselves, as there are a variety of error-prone and error-free mechanisms to do so. Graham’s project focuses on determining the impact of sex and cell-cycle on DSB repair, analyzing whether males and females and dividing/nondividing tissues repair differently. For this, she uses Drosophila melanogaster flies as a model organism, creating unique genetic crosses to test her hypotheses. Foundational to their lab is the DR-white assay, which allows her to phenotypically study how a DSB can be repaired by methods known as non-homologous end-joining, single-strand annealing, and homologous recombination. When the phenotypes of the flies cannot be analyzed, they perform molecular analysis on the flies to determine their repair mechanism. As she started working in the lab, she has learned new techniques and strategies with help from her amazing research assistant, Joel Fernandez. 


Even though Graham hasn’t been physically in a lab for more than a few weeks due to the pandemic, she feels humble about being able to experience research. One of the main motivations behind research for her is to find answers to burning questions in the STEM community. She enjoys the practicality of  trying over and over again to get proper conditions for experiments and being able to see results. There is also the practice with technical skills to actually be able to obtain data that intrigues her, and it makes her recognize what it takes to build the database of knowledge for science. Graham is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the LaRocque lab because it allows for her to pursue a passion for genetics and for understanding the basis behind pathology.  Working in the lab has also become an inspiration for its applications to explaining and understanding the pathology of cancer. 

Written by Anndy Serrano-Marcilo