Alex Samano

Biology Ph.D. Student | Chakraborty Lab | Texas A&M University

About

I am a second-year Biology Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University. I use bioinformatics, population genomics, and molecular genetic tools to probe the role of structural variation in adaptive evolution.

Research Interests

Adaptive Evolution

Drosophila melanogaster is an excellent model organism for studying adaptive evolution because it can be found in a range of environments from its ancestral range in tropical, Sub-Saharan Africa to temperate, cosmopolitan regions. Clinal variation in thermal stress resistance, body size, fecundity, and lifespan have been observed in D. melanogaster populations. I am investigating the genetic and molecular basis of this variation and how it contributes to adaptive evolution.

Structural Variation

Structural variants, or SVs, are mutations that alter the genome through duplication, deletion, insertion, and inversion. SVs often cause large adaptive shifts in ecologically important traits, which makes them compelling candidates for driving adaptations to environmental changes. My research focuses on repetitive genomic elements such as transposable element (TE) insertion and tandem duplications with the goal of understanding how they contribute to adaptive responses to environmental pressures.

Pangenomics

Standard methods rely on a reference genome to map reads and functional genomics data, however, this can miss adaptive SVs and mislead inference of adaptive evolution. These problems can be resolved by using a pangenome graph constructed from aligning highly contiguous genome assemblies. Pangenome graphs include comprehensive genetic variation from a population and provide accurate and complete SV annotation and genotyping. I use recently developed computational tools to generate pangenome graphs with the goal of elucidating the role of SVs in adaptive evolution in D. melanogaster.

Invasive Species

Global changes have led to the recurrent emergence of invasive species across the globe. I investigate the genomic basis of this invasive range expansion using Anopheles stephensi, the primary vector of urban malaria in South Asia and an invasive malaria vector in East Africa.

Education and Professional Experience

Education

Texas A&M University - College Station

Biology Ph.D.

August 2022 - present

Graduate student in the lab of Dr. Mahul Chakraborty. My current project involves identifying SVs in geographically diverse Drosophila melanogaster genomes with the goal of understanding how repetitive genomic elements contribute to adaptive evolution.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Bachelor of Science in Biology

Minor in Chemistry and Computer Science

August 2016 - May 2020

Undergraduate Researcher with Dr. Christopher Willett's lab studying evolutionary genetics of speciation. Worked with bioinformatic programs to analyze the genome of a copepod species, Tigriopus californicus.

Professional Experience

Genomics Lab Supervisor

Mako Medical Laboratories, Henderson, North Carolina

January - July 2022
  • Supervisor for 1st Shift scientists conducting clinical laboratory testing for SARS-CoV-2.
Molecular Lab Scientist I

Mako Medical Laboratories, Henderson, North Carolina

July 2020 - January 2022
  • Trained and certified in all major steps of processing COVID-19 samples: Extraction of RNA from swab samples, setting up and performing qPCR experiments, and analysis of gene expression from qPCR results to identify the presence of SARS-Cov-2 and variants.

Photos

Fly brain with GFP expression driven by a putative enhancer region in Insulin Receptor.

Contact

Check out my lab's website here or reach out to me for details if you are interested in participating in research! I enjoy mentoring undergraduates who want to get research experience in genetics, evolution, and bioinformatics.