Curriculum vitae (last updated April 2019)


Biography

I have eclectic interests spanning the sciences and arts including music, graphic art, and poetry. My award-winning scientific work blends the fields of computer science and evolution to better understand biomedically and biotechnologically significant fungi (e.g., disease causing pathogens and producers of alcoholic beverages, respectively). For example, what causes some species of fungi to be pathogenic while close relatives are harmless? Or what is the evolutionary signature of domestication among yeast associated with wine-making? My artistic endeavors explore aspects of modern life experienced on global and personal levels such as raising awareness to critically endangered animals, shedding light on the everyday task of teasing apart reality from false facts, and the meaning of life itself.

My overarching goals include making education more accessible to all, facilitate student learning, and participate in artistic and scientific community engagement. To this end, I am the chair of MEGAMicrobe (an education outreach event that teaches children and adults about all things microbial), serve on committees across Vanderbilt University that aim to enhance diversity and inclusion, am a science fair judge for the Middle Tennessee Science and Engineering Fair, participant in ArtLab (an artistic exploration of the intersection between art and science), and much more.


Research Interests

Recent representative publications:
Steenwyk and Rokas (2018) Frontiers in Microbiology
Steenwyk and Rokas (2017) G3


In brief, my research interests include evolution, genomics, and phylogenetics, with a particular interest in molds and yeasts.

My research, conducted as part of the Antonis Rokas Lab at Vanderbilt University, aims to utilize various 'omics approaches to understand the evolution and function of fungal genomes. I implement computational tools to conduct analyses of species relationships, sequence evolution, and mutational variation across the fungal tree of life or populations thereof. These analyses can inform the evolution and/or divergence of traits important to our lives such as pathogenicity and bioindustrial traits like fermentative capacity. More generally, I am most interested in how populations and/or species evolve, diverge, and what genomic elements and traits define them.

Current projects involve wine associated strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker’s yeast) and the non-conventional wine yeast genus Hanseniaspora. Past work includes study of the primary human and animal pathogen, Cryptococcus gattii.

To facilitate these analyses, I implement multiple programming languages such as Python, R, bash, and awk. Numerous scripts that I have written are publicaly available among my github repositories. These respositories aim to enable the analysis phylogenetic, molecular, and related analyses.

Additionally, much of my scientific work has been enhanced thanks to collaborative efforts. A non-exhaustive list of collaborator/friend labs include the following: Rokas Lab, Xing-Xing Shen, Matthew E. Mead , Hittinger Lab , and Gibbons Lab. I am always interested in collaboration because what we can achieve together is far greater than what we can achieve alone - please feel free to get in touch

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Highlight discoveries

Levels of Evolutionary Sequence Divergence within the Budding Yeast Subphylum Are on Par with Levels Observed in Animals and Plants. The phylogenetic distance (y-axis) between iconic species in budding yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), animals (Homo sapiens), and plants (Arabidopsis thaliana) and other representative species in each lineage. Budding yeast diversity is on par with the plant and animal lineages. Publication PDF




Copy number variable genes affect functions important to wine making in S. cerevisiae. Functional categories (e.g., Cu and Fe homeostasis, maltose metabolism, etc.) are shown in black font. Genes of interest are shown proximal to the category described and are colored blue, red, or purple to represent a gene observed to be primarily deleted, duplicated, or both across populations and studies investigating S. cerevisiae wine strains. Genes found to be both duplicated and deleted present an opportunity for oenologists to capitalize on standing genetic diversity to select for particular flavor profiles or yeast performance. Publication PDF


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Reduced Curriculum Vitae

Please see link above for complete CV


Education

Pres.   Graduate Student, Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2016   M.S. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Clark University, Worcester, MA
2015   B.A. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Clark University, Worcester, MA

Invited Talks

2019   Extensive loss of cell cycle and DNA repair genes in an ancient lineage of bipolar budding yeast, 30th Fungal Genetics Conference at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA
2019   The yeast with the least, Hanseniaspora. Phylogenomics and Evolution Group of North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
2018   The Flow of Influences Shaping the Current, ArtLab, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2015   Instinct and Intelligence, TedXClarkUniversity, Clark University, Worcester, MA

Contributed Talks

2019   Microbes and our food. Science club at the library, Nashville Public Library, Nashville, TN (scheduled)
2018   From bread to beer: Our unwitting domestication of yeast. Nashville Science Club, Jackalope Brewing Co., Nashville, TN
2017   Extensive Copy Number Variation in Fermentation-Related Genes Among Saccharomyces cerevisiae Wine Strains. Mycological Society of America University of Georgia, Athens, GA
2016   Population structure and copy number variation in the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii. Mycological Society of America, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
2016   Population structure and copy number variation in the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii. Graduate Student Multidisciplinary Conference, Clark University, Worcester, MA

Awards

2019   Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, Individual Predoctoral Fellowship, National Institutes of Health
2019   Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, Ford Foundation
2019   Graduate student travel grant, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2019   Curb Center Fellow, ArtLab, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2018   GENETICS Peer Review Training Program, Genetics Society of America
2018   Best poster award, Gordon Research Conference, Holderness, NH
2018   Best poster award, Gordon Research Seminar, Holderness, NH
2018   Best poster award, Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2018   T-shirt design contest winner, Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University
2017   Graduate student travel grant, Vanderbilt University, TN
2016   Graduate Student Council Travel Award, Graduate Student Multidisciplinary Conference, Clark University, Worcester, MA
2015   Summa Cum Laude, Clark University, Worcester, MA
2014   Summer research scholar, Bridging the gaps, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
2013   Global environmental microbiology scholar, Center for dark energy biosphere investigations, University of Southern California
2011   Jonas Clark Scholar, Clark University

Service

2019-Pres.   Co-chair, MEGAMicrobe, Vanderbilt Institute for Infections, Immunology and Inflammation, Nashville, TN
2018-Pres.   Vice President, Inclusivity in Biological Sciences Association, Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2018-Pres.   Vice President, Graduate Student Association, Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2018-Pres.   Member, American Society of Microbiology Tennessee Chapter
2017-Pres.   Educational outreach booth design and execution, MEGAMicrobe, Nashville, TN
2017-Pres.   Communications chair, Inequalities in Biological Sciences Association, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2017-Pres.   Member of the Dean of Graduate Student’s survey quantitative analysis subgroup, Graduate Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2017-Pres.   Judge, Middle Tennessee Science and Engineering Fair, Belmont University, Nashville, TN
2019      Peer review workshop leader, 30th Fungal Genetics Conference at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA
2018-2019   Vice co-chair, MEGAMicrobe, Vanderbilt Institute for Infections, Immunology and Inflammation, Nashville, TN
2017-2018   Secretary, Graduate Student Association, Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
2017-2018   Scientific consultant, Little Harpeth Brewing, Nashville, TN
2017      Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science, Volunteer Science Teacher, West End Middle School, Nashville, TN
2014-2015   Undergraduate Subcommittee for Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Faculty Search Committee, Clark University, Worcester, MA
2014-2015   Science Education Outreach Blogger, C-DEBI Sci-Curious Blog

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