Georgetown Scientific Research Journal GSR Journal
Elena Silva, Ph.D. is a professor and chair in the Department of Biology at Georgetown. She received her Bachelors of Science and Ph.D. in Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Silva went on to complete her Post-Doc at the National Institute for Medical Research, London, UK, and at the University of California, Berkeley, CA.
Involvement in Research:
Dr. Silva researches the gene network that controls the induction and patterning of the central nervous system in vertebrates. She is specifically focusing on how neural tissue can differentiate from early ectoderm into neurons or glial cells. This differentiation requires a series of signal transduction events that lead to transcription of a set of genes. Her lab utilizes embryos of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, as a tool for their study of vertebrate development because the embryos are large, easily manipulated, and allow for easy analysis at early stages of development. Furthermore, the ability to generate transgenic frogs has revolutionized her field, allowing more rapid analysis of promoter function in embryos. Dr. Silva’s studies focus on the regulation of the SoxB genes that encode the promoter HMG box transcription factors. She uses traditional biochemical assays and expression screens to slowly piece together the steps of ectoderm differentiation into neurons.
Dr. Silva’s path to developmental biology was long and filled with diverse scientific experiences. Dr. Silva’s first research job was studying genetics in California on cornfields. Then, she did molecular biology research, and after graduating, worked at a biotechnology company in California for two years. After experiencing this industry job, Dr. Silva decided to pursue a Ph.D. in plant biology and was only exposed to developmental biology as a TA. This inspired her to transition to developmental research through a Post-Bac in England on embryonic development. After her Post-Doc, she moved to Washington D.C. and established a lab at Georgetown.
Dr. Silva has found her time in research to be extremely rewarding. She especially enjoys giving talks to curious students and colleagues. To her, being a part of a larger scientific community is one of the greatest benefits of working in research. She loves being a part of her own lab community and working closely within it. Her love for teaching and mentoring has driven her to develop great relationships within her community. Furthermore, she believes that working on something greater than oneself as part of a team is an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience.
Advice for Students:
Dr. Silva’s valuable advice to students is to enjoy research and the long-term and unique challenges associated with conducting a research project. She advises students to stick with hands-on research problems and recognize that all projects are very different, and not to hop labs. Solving these problems and persevering is fun, rewarding, and the true challenge in scientific research.
Written by Christina Zhu