Katelyn Walzer

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UPGG Graduate Student (2012)
Headshot of Katelyn WalzerChi Lab
Box 3382 DUMC
Durham, N.C. 27710
Phone: 919.668.4784
Fax: 919.668.4777

Hi, my name is Katie! I am a UPGG student. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA (Go Steelers!) and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 with a BS in Biological Sciences and English Writing. I first became interested in scientific research when I did a summer internship with Chris Wylie at the University of Cincinnati. While there, I explored the role of nucleus pulposus cells in intervertebral disc degeneration. Disc degeneration in the vertebral column is a likely cause of lower back pain, and as I excitedly made connections between my results and their medical impact, I realized that a career in research was perfect for me.

Prior to coming to Duke, I worked in Jon Boyle’s parasitology lab at the University of Pittsburgh, including one year as a lab tech. I did a comparative genomics study between the human pathogenToxoplasma gondii and its closest extant relative Hammondia hammondi, studying their structural and functional differences. I discovered that the nonpathogenic H. hammondi harbors perfectly functional homologs of T. gondii’s most potent virulence factors, indicating that the H. hammondi genome will be a valuable tool in analyzing T. gondii virulence and host range determinants. This project highlights the importance of comparative genomics studies, but more importantly, it made me realize how much I love genetics. I was drawn to the UPGG program at Duke because I have broad interests in genetics and because the program is just the right size (there are 12 students in the first-year class). Durham is also an affordable place to live and has nicer weather than Pittsburgh does!

It is very easy to rotate in different fields in UPGG, from evolutionary ecology to cancer biology. I did my first rotation in the Heitman lab where I studied fungal pathogenesis and evolution, while my second rotation is in the Poss lab where I studied regeneration in zebrafish. I am currently in the lab of Dr. Ashley Chi.