Two Yale Department of Genetics students were recently awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Myles Alderman from the Xiao lab and Mark Noble from the Noonan lab have been recognized by the fellowship program for their contributions and aspirations in both scientific innovation and education. Through the support of this fellowship, Alderman and Noble will receive three years of funding for graduate research and STEM outreach.
Both students aim to understand genetics from an evolutionary standpoint. “I’m drawn to reproductive biology and epigenetics because understanding the processes by which new organisms develop and how our environment can impact that development is important for helping the next generation to be as healthy as they can be.” Alderman is exploring how mammals have evolved to utilize the epigenetic mark N(6)-methyladenine, which was recently discovered in higher organisms, in reproduction. Specifically he is examining the role of N(6)-methyladenine in placental development and in the evolution of placentation.
Similarly, Noble explores the role of genetics in evolution, focusing instead on the human brain. Noble is using genetic information from chimpanzees to explore the molecular evolution of the human brain. “We are looking at how gene expression and regulation have changed in order to expand the cortex of human brains.” More specifically, Noble examines gene expression and regulation in human and chimpanzee neural stem cells, looking for human-specific phenotypes.
Although the two scientists have different research focuses, both emphasize the importance of the environment within the Department of Genetics to the success of their research. “The courses we get to take, the rotations we do, and the talks we go to have taught me so much over the last few years,” Alderman comments. Noble describes the overall dynamic of the department, recalling, “The atmosphere at Yale was electrifying; people were deeply committed. I felt inspired to do more work and take more risks due to the support and collaboration of the department.”
The NSF Fellowship, however, equally emphasizes the importance of outreach. To fulfill this, Alderman aims to help high school students with learning disabilities get into labs. “Getting into a lab as a high school student with a learning disability is a life-changing experience because it’s about your science and how you think, rather than how your thinking is formally assessed,” Alderman says. “I want to increase the population of people with learning disabilities in research.” Noble also aims to increase diversity within the lab environment, focusing on outreach for LGBTQ students who have commonly had low retention in STEM fields. Specifically, he plans on working with oSTEM, a national society for LGBTQ support in STEM, to pair students with principal investigators who have been trained to mentor LGBTQ students.
Having been awarded the NSF fellowship and with the ongoing support of the Department of Genetics, Alderman and Noble will continue their important work in evolutionary genetics as well as their inspiring diversity-focused outreach projects.